Environmental Minimalism and Inspirational Wonder in Paradise Lost
By Emma Chervek
ENGL 425: Seminar in Literary Studies
Emma wrote this paper for ENGL 425: Seminar in Literary Studies, which challenged students to produce a research paper that matched the quality of a critical article in the field. The topic of the course was Paradise Lost, John Milton’s 1667 epic poem about the Fall, and Emma’s critical article connects this old text to a pressing modern-day issue and shows how surprisingly current this 17th- century poem feels. The article is exceptionally well-researched, and it intervenes to fill a significant hole in Milton scholarship.
– Valerie Billing
Paradise Lost tells the story of the creation of the universe based on the Biblical account in the book of Genesis, focusing on Adam and Eve’s early life in Eden: earth’s ultimate paradise. This story is influenced by the natural characteristics of its setting and is therefore inseparable from the physical environment in which this story is set. An ecocritical reading of Paradise Lost is not only logical but necessary in order to understand the way Adam and Eve’s natural environment contributes to their experiences as chronicled in Milton’s epic. Although the development of the field of ecocriticism is relatively recent, there is a wealth of ecocritical research on Paradise Lost. Richard J. DuRocher writes about the Fall’s “palpable effect on nature” as seen through Milton’s repeated personification of a wounded earth (DuRocher 96). In another ecocritical reading of Paradise Lost, Nick Pici points out the pastoral characteristics found in parts of Milton’s epic along with other green subtexts‒‒including Adam and Eve’s actions in Eden that could be viewed today as environmentally conscious‒‒ in order to argue that Adam and Eve are “earth’s first environmentalists” (Pici 46). The language Pici uses to describe Adam and Eve’s stewardship of Eden is reminiscent of the modern cultural movement of minimalism, which is often associated with modern environmental and sustainability movements. In my essay, I will argue that through Adam and Eve’s actions, Milton creates a potent sense of wonder that serves as an inspiration for modern stewardship of the natural world. Milton uses the personified wounding of the earth to not only emphasize the trauma earth feels as a result of human sin, but also to illustrate the natural kinship between humans and the earth that is fractured when humanity falls. Environmentalism and minimalism are parts of the solution to this anthropogenic damage found in Milton’s Eden and our world today. The tones of modern environmentalism and minimalism evident in Adam and Eve’s Edenic actions inspire a sense of wonder that we might recapture if we model our lives after Milton’s Adam and Eve.
Wounding the Landscape
Milton’s personification of the earth shows the depth of impact caused by the Fall of man, not only on the earth itself but numerous aspects of creation. DuRocher contends that this personification transfers the focus away from the human plot and instead connects humanity and nature, showing that Adam and Eve’s actions cause the earth to be tangibly wounded (DuRocher 95, 96). Building on DuRocher, I argue that this wound is both emotional and physical, a duality Milton makes apparent through his use of personification. When Eve falls, we get our first glimpse of how human action affects the earth:
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck’d, she eat:
Earth felt the Wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe
That all was lost. (9.780-84).
In this passage, it is evident that when “Earth felt the Wound,” its personified reaction is a direct result of Eve’s disobedient act of eating the fruit (9.782). The Oxford English Dictionary defines “wound” as “an incision, abrasion, or other injury due to external violence” (“wound”). When Eve sins, she damages not only the fate of humankind but also the physical world through this injury. While preconceived notions of this Biblical story lead us to believe that Eve was deceived entirely by Satan disguised as a serpent, this passage from Milton’s retelling of the traditional story shows that even though Satan may have convinced Eve to eat the fruit, she picked it from the tree with her own hand rather than simply accepting it from Satan (Milton 9.781). Eve had to put in additional effort to pluck the fruit herself before eating it; this action enforces the anthropogenic identity of Eve’s sin. After the earth is wounded, Milton depicts nature‒‒an element of the earth‒‒as “sighing” (9.783). In the OED, a “sigh” is defined as “a sudden, prolonged, deep and more or less audible respiration, following on a deep-drawn breath, and esp. indicating or expressing dejection, weariness…pain” (“sigh”). This definition elevates the intensity of the damage caused by Eve’s action. The earth is not only physically wounded, but experiences other emotions such as pain and dejection. The conclusion of this passage is that “all was lost” as a result of Eve’s sin (Milton 9.784). In this context, “lost” most closely refers to something “that has perished or been destroyed; ruined, esp. morally or spiritually” (“lost”). This word implies a tone of finality that corresponds with the OED’s definition of “lost.” Eve, through her disobedience to God, begins a process of ruin that leads to the earth’s hopeless feeling that all is lost.
In the following passage, we see anthropogenic damage that manifests in an emotional manner. After Adam follows Eve’s example and eats of the fruit, the
Earth trembl’d from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan,
Sky low’r’d, and muttering Thunder, some sad drops
Wept at completing if the mortal Sin Original. (9.1000-1004).
In this passage earth, nature, and weather are personified for the same aim: to show the emotional rift between humanity and nature created in that moment of mortal sin. The earth “trembl’d,” a word defined by the OED as “to shake involuntarily as with fear or other emotion, cold, or weakness” (“tremble”). “Trembl’d” implies sin is an entity terrifying enough to render the earth weak, even if momentarily. There is irony in the idea of a grand celestial body such as the earth shaking in fear; it’s an absurd image opposite from the harmonious relationship we witness earlier in the epic between humanity and the garden. Next, Milton writes that “Nature gave a second groan” (Milton 9.1001). In this context, “groan” most closely means “a low deep sound expressive of grief or pain” according to the OED (“groan”). As a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, nature experiences pain made tangible through the use of personification. Grief and pain are strong sensations and show the magnitude of emotional damage caused by sin. In this passage, there is also imagery commonly associated with childbirth, a process altered after the Fall to be extremely painful and emotionally difficult as a punishment for Eve’s sin. “Pangs” and “groan” both carry connotations of childbirth, insinuating that the aftermath of humanity’s sin is similar to a commonly painful human experience (Milton 9.1001). The natural world and humanity face similar consequences through the childbirth- esque pain they feel, although that pain is not unifying; it is divisive. There are also emotional wounds referenced through the weather on earth after the Fall; the “[s]ky low’r’d, and muttering Thunder, some sad drops / Wept” (9.1003-4). An initial analysis reveals these lines are referencing rain, a weather phenomenon personified as weeping: a word with a tone synonymous to that of the words I’ve previously examined from this passage. Although rain is often associated with a refreshing gift of new life, in this context it is a natural phenomenon that exudes sorrow and grief. The word “sad” is worth further note, however, as it functions as a pun; there are multiple meanings of the word that may be applicable in this context. First is the modern definition of “feeling sorrow of regret” (“sad”). This option corresponds with previous observations about the personification of the sky crying. “Sad,” however, can also mean “mature, serious, grave” (“sad”). This second meaning, relevant during the time Milton wrote Paradise Lost, is perhaps more jarring than the modern meaning in this context. While the first implies that even the weather feels the sorrow of humanity’s actions, the second meaning implies that the tears the sky is weeping are serious, meaning that they understand the complexity and degree of the circumstances about to come to fruition rather than simply feeling sorrow or regret. The attribution of this knowledge and understanding to the natural world makes the tears the sky cries even more meaningful. There is great emotional damage as a result of sin that separates humanity from nature.
Along with the emotional damages discussed in the previous section, there are also physical “changes in the heav’ns” that did not occur until after the Fall of humankind (Milton 10.692). One of these is that the tilting of “[t]he poles of the earth twice ten degrees and more / From the sun’s axle” (10.669-70). This refers to the 23.5° tilt of the earth’s axis that makes possible the annual weather and temperature fluctuations known as seasons; DuRocher argues this is an example of how the earth is “physically afflicted” after the Fall (DuRocher 101). Another example is that
Had first his precept so to move, so shine
As might affect the Earth with cold and heat
Scarce tolerable and from the north to call
Decrepit winter, from the south to bring Solstitial summer’s heat. (10.651-657).
Here, we see that the sun moves location in the universe after the Fall, affecting the previous moderate and consistent global climate of the prelapsarian world. As a result of humanity’s actions, the climate changed in detrimental ways. Winter is personified as “decrepit,” which the OED defines as “wasted or worn out with old age, decayed and enfeebled with infirmities” (“decrepit”). This language does not portray an oasis akin to the garden; instead, this addition of different seasons shows the changed earth as a sickened wasteland as a result of humanity’s Fall.
Milton’s references to environmental destruction and damages are not only those concerning Eden and humanity’s sin but also those that take place in Hell:
Mammon led them on,
Mammon the least erected spirit that fell
From Heav’n, for ev’n in Heav’n his looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heav’n’s pavement, trodden gold,
Than aught divine or holy else enjoyed
In vision beatific. By him first
Men also, and by his suggestion taught,
Ransacked the center and with impious hands
Rifled the bowels of their mother Earth
For treasures better hid. Soon had his crew
Opened into the hill a spacious wound
And digged out ribs of gold. (Milton 1.678-90)
This passage begins by detailing Mammon’s history of extreme greed and his admiration for material things, such as gold, that closely resembles worship. This admiration of “riches” is in opposition to the expected object of worship for a supposedly “divine or holy” angel: God. It is Mammon’s avarice that leads him to eventually teach humanity to dig into the earth and extract its natural resources for personal (and often monetary) gain. This is a direct reference to the influx of mining during Milton’s lifetime, a practice that was detrimental to the environment and the earth’s natural resources. In the seventeenth century, the Portuguese, with an intent to exploit the natural resources of Brazil, found large amounts of gold and initiated an expansive mining industry. They used the labor of hundreds of thousands of Portuguese and African slaves and aided in the deforestation of the Atlantic Forest habitat (Gilbert 40). Additionally, seventeenth-century Sweden was one of the most historically important mining regions in Europe and caused large amounts of water pollution; those effects are still noticeable today in Sweden’s lakes and the Baltic Sea (Bindler et al.) The strong language Milton uses in this passage shows his criticism of environmentally harmful activities such as mining. He uses the verbs “ransacked” and “rifled” to describe the act of extracting natural resources from the earth. According to the OED, “ransacked” means “to search (a place, person, etc.) with intent to rob, esp. roughly or carelessly, so as to cause damage or disorder in the process” (“ransack”). Similarly, “rifled” is defined in the OED as “to rob or strip bare of something” (“rifle”). These verbs instill the malicious intent Milton aims to ascribe to the mining industry in order to criticize it. He also personifies the earth in this passage; it is referred to as “mother Earth” and has “ribs of gold” (Milton 1.687, 1.690). This personification is a precursor to the personification of the wounded earth referenced with the Fall of humanity. Here, Milton refers to the mine itself as “a spacious wound,” the same term he uses later to describe the effect of humanity’s sin on the natural world (1.689). Connecting these two events (mining and the Fall of humanity) demonstrates how damaging mining practices truly are; they are parallel to disobeying God. Mammon is clearly an antagonist in this passage, and his obsession with wealth sets us up to feel relieved and refreshed at reading how Adam and Eve interact harmoniously with nature in Eden before the Fall. It is important to understand the ways the earth is wounded‒‒emotionally and physically‒‒in order to search earnestly for what Milton poses as a solution to this environmental destruction.
Milton’s Response: Environmentalism and Minimalism in Paradise Lost
I’ve discussed how Milton’s use of personification highlights the major problem: the disconnect created between humans and nature as a result of the original mortal sin. Next, I will look at a possible solution Milton poses for this problem. By detailing even the mundanest of their actions, Milton casts Adam and Eve as responsible environmental stewards of Eden and foreshadows a partial fix for the damage caused by mortal sin. As Ellen Goodman argues, “Milton develops a view of the unfallen relations between Adam and Eve and their subjects which redefines the ideal conditions of human life in the natural world” (Goodman 9). Building on Goodman, I will argue Milton is suggesting a cure for environmental destruction by showing an ideal in Adam and Eve and in the pastoral poetry that he uses to describe the garden and their interactions with it. Adam and Eve are depicted as models of environmentalism and minimalism, which shows the methods Milton believes can offer a solution to the anthropogenic rupture between humanity and nature.
The pastoral genre of poetry is prevalent in Paradise Lost and is Milton’s way of depicting the beauty of the natural world. It is within the pastoral verse in Milton’s epic that he describes Adam and Eve within Eden. These portions of the epic are “suffused with rich, intoxicating imagery, resplendent detail, and lyrical language” and are “used to paint pictures of an iridescent Eden replete with beauty and enticing natural treasures” (Pici 36). This iridescent picture of Eden that affects a wide range of characters is what motivates Adam and Eve to color their behaviors with themes of environmentalism. Pici’s argument focuses primarily on environmental themes in Milton’s epic, providing numerous examples of Adam and Eve’s actions that are reminiscent of modern environmentalist practices. He notes that “balance, moderation, and temperance encode the lives of Adam and Eve in Paradise,” and “that these inhabitants of Paradise are vegetarians, gardeners, and practitioners of modern, conscientious living” (Pici 46). These traits are all things that could be applied to the modern environmentalist.
Adam and Eve practice multiple behaviors that can be classified as environmentally conscious. One of these is related to their diet; they are vegans and there is no evidence that they consume meat, dairy, or animal products. It is mentioned many times that Adam and Eve are allowed to eat “[o]f the fruit / Of each tree in the garden,” but eating meat and killing or harming animals is never mentioned (9.590-60). Rather than exerting their power over creatures of the earth by using them for sustenance, Adam and Eve fulfill their dietary needs using the garden’s natural vegetation. Pici builds on this idea, noting that they take only what they need from the garden (Pici 45). This illustrates Adam and Eve’s adherence to the principles of moderation in that they do not exploit the garden’s resources for their own selfish gain. Both of these concepts‒‒plant-based diets and respecting the natural resources of the earth‒‒are key components of the modern environmental movement.
The idea that Adam and Eve are environmentalists, however, can be taken further. While Pici doesn’t explicitly argue the following, there is evidence in his article that leads to the conclusion that Adam and Eve adopt a minimalist lifestyle similar to that which has gained popularity in modern culture around the globe. Kyle Chayka, a writer who regularly covers the cultural trend of minimalism, defines the phenomenon as “a lifestyle of…being happy with, and more aware of, what you already own” (Chayka). While arguing that Adam and Eve are environmentalists, Pici mentions that they “structure their lives while in Eden according to rather strict principles of moderation,” which is a common characteristic of modern minimalism (Pici 45). Building on Pici’s observation, I argue Adam and Eve model minimalist behaviors in addition to their environmentalist behaviors.
Adam and Eve are exemplars of minimalist ideals through what we see of their daily routine. Adam speaks to Eve in the evening, saying,
Tomorrow ere fresh morning streak the east
With first approach of light we must be ris’n
And at our pleasant labor to reform
Yon flow’ry arbors, yonder alleys green,
Our walk at noon with branches overgrown… (Milton 4.623-27)
Adam describes the morning as “fresh,” which is a positive appreciation of the gift of the day’s newness (4.623). He narrates how he and Eve will wake up “[w]ith first approach of light” and without any need for mechanical or man-made assistance such as the alarm clocks that we commonly use today; the natural light of the sun is sufficient (4.624). Shortly after waking up, they begin their “pleasant labor,” and are able to find joy in tending for the garden (4.625). “Pleasant” is defined by the OED as “merry, light-hearted,” implying that the modern negative connotation associated with the idea of physical labor does not exist in Eden (“pleasant”). Adam and Eve enjoy the work they are tasked with doing in order to sustain themselves, which is congruent with modern ideas of minimalism. Moreover, Adam and Eve are not bothered with wearing clothing, and they go to sleep without “putting off / These troublesome disguises which we wear” (4.739-40). This ultimate lack of material possessions is one of the most important pillars of a minimalist lifestyle.
Paradise Lost advocates for the minimalist simplicity of living in harmony with nature, an idea strikingly similar to Leo Marx’s definition of the pastoral: “the desire, in the face of growing complexity and power of organized society, to disengage from the dominant culture and to seek the basis for a simpler, more harmonious way of life ‘closer’ (as we say) to ‘nature’” (Pici 36). Milton’s pastoral poetry is a method for showing the beauty and power of the natural world. One particularly striking pastoral passage describes the natural phenomena of evening:
Whether the prime orb,
Incredible how swift, had thither rolled
Diurnal or this less voluble earth
By shorter flight to th’ east had left him there
Arraying with reflected purpl’ and gold
The clouds that on his western throne attend.
Now came still evening on and twilight grey
Had in her sober livery all things clad.
Silence accompanied, for beast and bird,
They to their grassy couch, these to their nests
Were slunk ‒ all but the wakeful nightingale.
She all night long her amorous descant sung:
Silence was pleased. Now glowed the firmament
With living sapphires. Hesperus that led
The starry host rode brightest till the Moon,
Rising in clouded majesty, at length
Apparent queen, unveiled her peerless light
And o’er the dark her silver mantel threw. (Milton 4.592-609)
The entirety of this passage focuses on a quite common occurrence‒‒nightfall‒‒yet describes it as anything but common. Any possible mundanity associated with nature’s daily evening routine is ignored, and these events are instead held in reverence and colored with words of admiration. Milton highlights the extreme beauty of nature during nighttime, comparing stars to “living sapphires” (4.605). He describes these celestial bodies as akin to precious jewels, a comparison meant to emphasize the physical beauty and sense of awe felt upon witnessing stars in the night sky. Milton narrates the movement of the moon across the starlit sky as “[r]ising in clouded majesty” (4.607). The OED defines “majesty” as “greatness, dignity, power,” giving great significance to the moon and continuing to venerate objects of nature (“majesty”). There is a great sense of peace when “silence accompanied” and every creature sleeps apart from “the wakeful nightingale” (4.600, 4.602).
This passage takes on a slow tone of contentment; “silence was pleased” at the song the nightingale sings while the rest of Eden slumbers. Milton spends many lines on this description, showing how important he feels this silent, peaceful night is. This careful consideration of the beauty found in silence is consistent with ideas of minimalism and how it ties to environmentalism. This passage, however, could be seen as complicating ideas of minimalism since its language aligns with themes of extravagance, referencing expensive jewels and excesses of beauty. I would counter that the beauty admired is natural rather than man-made, which continues to support the idea that Adam and Eve are minimalists. Here, Adam and Eve appreciate what they have without yearning for excess. Although Milton describes the peaceful nightfall in extravagant terms, Adam and Eve cherish its beauty at face value, echoing Chayka’s definition of minimalism.
There is much we can learn from the methods Adam and Eve employ. Jia Tolentino draws connections between environmentalism and minimalism, saying that following a minimalistic lifestyle is a way for us to fix the environmental issues we face; “with less noise in our heads, we might hear the emergency sirens more clearly. We might address the frantic, frightening, intensifying conditions that have prompted us to think of minimalism as an attractive escape” (Tolentino). By identifying positive behaviors that help foster a connection between humanity and nature, Milton uses Adam and Eve to inspire his audience’s sense of environmental wonder and desire to preserve the natural beauty of the earth.
Rachel Carson, a famous conservationist, environmental activist, and nature writer came to the following conclusion shortly before her death in 1964: “It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the Earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility” (Weyler). The idea of wonder frequently sparks the yearning for environmental conservation and preservation (Remien 817). Wonder is a powerful force that is often evoked through Milton’s use of pastoral poetry and descriptions of nature in Paradise Lost and affects Satan, Adam and Eve, and Milton’s reader.
Satan, upon his arrival in Eden, is greatly affected by Edenic beauty and the feelings of wonder it universally provokes. Remien argues that in his moments of pause, Satan is forced “to confront the profound beauty of that which he is compelled to destroy,” and that “wonder dilates poetic description as a method for temporarily delaying Eden’s destruction through the creation of an elegy to that which was lost in The Fall” (Remien 818). The awe-inspired by Eden’s pure beauty is so powerful that even Satan, a character with ill intent, is struck with reverence:
Beneath him with new wonder now he views
To all delight of human sense exposed
In narrow room Nature’s whole wealth, yea more,
A Heav’n on Earth, for blissful Paradise
Of God the garden was by Him in th’ east
Of Eden planted. (Milton 4.205-10)
This passage is right after Satan arrives on earth and glimpses Eden for the first time. Satan has clear goals of harming Adam and Eve; while perched on the Tree of Life he “sat devising death / To them who lived” (4.197-98). Amidst his evil scheming and despite his harmful intentions, he experiences a “new wonder” upon taking in the beauty of Eden (4.205). The OED defines “wonder” as “something that causes astonishment” (“wonder”). The “blissful Paradise” of the garden accomplishes a great feat in these lines: its beauty manages to momentarily supersede the typical wickedness of Satan’s mind (Milton 4.208). The existence of this wonder shows the broadness of the power of nature and the natural environment‒‒not even the devil is exempt from reveling in the beauty of the earth.
Modern audiences often consider “wilderness” to be positively associated with wonder and adventure; however, I would like to note an important distinction when talking about natural language and the term “wilderness” in particular. The idea of wilderness is prevalent in Milton’s epic and exists as a contrast between his time and ours. As Christopher Hitt mentions in his overview of ecocriticism, Pici, like other ecocritics, through his disregard of possible contradictions to his argument, has romanticized the idea of the wilderness of Eden (Hitt 132). William Cronon writes about wilderness in relation to Paradise Lost and how the word did not mean the same thing during the time of the epic’s development as compared to its modern definition (Cronon). According to the OED, wilderness would have been defined during Milton’s time as “a wild or uncultivated region or tract of land, uninhabited, or inhabited only by wild animals; a tract of solitude and savageness” (“wilderness”). This coincides with Milton’s usage of the word; in his epic, he uses wilderness to reference the physical environment surrounding Eden, describing it as “a steep wilderness whose hairy sides / With thicket overgrown, grotesque, and wild” (Milton 4.135-136). In Milton’s time and this usage, in particular, Cronon notes that wilderness’s “connotations were anything but positive” (Cronon). In Paradise Lost, wilderness represents the dangerous unknown surrounding the oasis of Eden. By arguing that humans “desire and generally need to carve out a niche among the raw wilderness of nature,” Pici twists the “grotesque” quality of the wilderness into which Adam and Eve are thrust after the Fall into a necessity for “rich, meaningful, salubrious lives” (Pici 39). In Milton’s epic, the wilderness represents the desolation and destruction that follows the Fall of man when Adam and Eve are banished from Paradise into the wilderness and a life without the same type of connection to God and nature they enjoyed before the Fall.
Milton’s pastoral poetry in Paradise Lost reveals the sense of wonder he feels at observing his own natural environment. As Clifford J. Cunningham notes, there are multiple allusions to the natural phenomenon of the aurora borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights. The following passage is a description of the aurora borealis as it appears in heaven:
Far in th’ horizon to the north appeared
From skirt to skirt a fiery region stretched
In battalious aspect and, nearer view,
Bristled with upright beams innumerable. (Milton 6.79-82)
It is logical that Milton would be interested in a scientific stance on nature. In his epic, he references Galileo three separate times, and during Milton’s lifetime, there were ample written sources describing the aurora borealis (Cunningham 6, 16). Even if Milton didn’t have an opportunity to personally view the aurora borealis, it is likely he was aware of its existence and revered beauty. This passage is just one of the many allusions to the aurora borealis throughout Paradise Lost, which shows the magnitude of influence this aspect of nature had on him. The sense of wonder Milton felt at either viewing or hearing descriptions of the aurora borealis inspired him to include allusions to it in his epic with the aim of using elements of nature to inspire his audiences.
Milton’s epic aims to show modern audiences the worth of Adam and Eve’s environmentally conscious behaviors. In reference to Adam and Eve’s actions in the garden, Pici contends that “it is probably more crucial for our current world, one that is facing pronounced and increasingly dire environmental crises, to consider and attempt to enact such ideas, practices, and visions” (Pici 35). One of the ways the wonder from Milton’s epic has translated into the modern world is through the many natural parks that are commonly associated with awe and wonder; these are often referred to as an Eden. Yosemite Valley is one example of this trend. Mark Stoll writes that “as Eden, Yosemite Valley called up religious feelings and became a place to worship, a temple made by divine hands” (Stoll 238). The wonder felt by visitors to this region commonly referred to as Eden functions as an inspiration for environmental conservation and preservation because of the religious-esque experience it evokes; in fact, this is how the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, came to existence. Adam and Eve felt about Eden similarly to how modern national park visitors feel about the nature they find themselves immersed within. Eve, for example, is a naturally curious human being. While declaring her devout love of Adam, she experiences wonder at the sight of the stars, asking “[b]ut wherefore all night long shine these? For whom / This glorious sight when sleep hath shut all eyes?” (Milton 4.657- 58). She knows that living creatures sleep at night and are therefore unable to witness the beauty of the stars that adorn the night sky. The stars’ persistent presence puzzles her, and she is shown as a creature of complex thought and deep wonder as a result of the natural phenomena that color her world. This is reminiscent of Milton’s probable response to the aurora borealis; wonder is powerful enough to inspire deep connections between humanity and nature.
Milton, in an attempt to teach us how to begin to repair the environmental destruction our world faces, depicts Paradise as perfect and Adam and Eve as responsible stewards who follow practices of environmental minimalism. While it is not plausible that we might regain the earthly perfection of Eden, there are steps we can take and practices we can adopt to preserve the beauty of nature so it sustains the following cycle: nature’s beauty will inspire humanity to preserve the natural world so it can continually inspire wonder in future generations who will be moved to dutifully care for our planet following Adam and Eve’s Edenic example.
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