Raphael's poetic instruction in Paradise lost



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In this essay, I argue that the angel Raphael introduces a poetic sensibility into Paradise in order to provide Adam and Eve with “equipment for living” after the Fall. Unlike other critics who have interpreted Raphael as a poet, I focus on the implications of Raphael’s poetic teaching for postlapsarian life. I also call attention to the dangerous effects of Raphael’s “song,” which awakens Adam’s insatiable curiosity about forbidden subjects even as Raphael cautions him to practice temperance and “be lowly wise.” Raphael aims to both “delight and instruct” his audience through poetic discourse, but Milton shows him struggling as Adam’s delight interferes with the angel’s efforts to instruct him. I discuss Raphael’s attempts to mitigate Adam’s enthrallment at his words through disclaimers that remind him to remain temperate in his pursuit of knowledge and to resist subjection to beauty and pleasure—including the charm of “song.” Through Raphael’s meditations on the challenges of poetic representation, Milton reflects on the double-sided nature of his own craft. My essay seeks to reconcile the beneficial purpose of Raphael’s visit with its troubling effects. By reading Raphael’s careful efforts to temper and reorient Adam’s curiosity alongside Milton’s statements on the value of literature in Areopagitica, I explore Milton’s sense of how pleasure, doubt, and even temptation—if rightly tempered—can aid fallen humans in the cultivation of faithful obedience.