Milton's Use of Epic Simile in Paradise Lost, Book-I

"Three poets, in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy and England did adorn.
The first in loftiness of thought surpass'd;
The next in majesty; in both the last:
The force of Nature could no further go;
To make a third she join'd the former two."

John Dryden (1631 - 1700)

Epic simile is, in simple words, an elaborate comparison that travels beyond the point of comparison and gives a complete poetic picture of some scene or incident suggested to the mind of the poet. They are used for illustration and ornamentation. They add dignity to the style. Such long-tailed similes stand by itself illuminating and beautifying much more than the ordinary narrative.

No doubt similes are a vital epic part but a group of critics of epic similes as used by Homer, Virgil or Milton points out that epic similes are elaborate comparisons extended beyond the original point of similarity and developed into independent pictures often irrelevant and moved a far-away from the initial connection. Thus, it is generally regarded as excursions of the imagination beyond the needs of narrative. However, such criticism does not do justice to the epic similes used by Milton, particularly in  Paradise Lost Book I. In this context, one should remember Addison’s famous observation about the essential characteristic of Milton’s epic similes:
          “When Milton eludes either to things or persons he never quits his similes until it rises to some very great idea, which is often foreign to the occasions that gave birth to. He runs on with the idea till he has raised out of it some glorious image to inflame the mind of the readers and to give it that sublime kind of entertainment which is suitable to the nature of a heroic poem”.

There can be no doubt that the variety of scene and incident introduced through these similes is one of their charms. Milton’s similes answer the demands of the narrative; their images stuffed with poetic scenes, characters and events that compose the poem. They release certain imaginative forces that have controlled and directed like any other factor of the story. An analysis of some of the important similes in Paradise Lost BookI should show the validity of the above observation.

image courtesy
The first simile is the one in which Milton compares the huge bulk of Satan with that of the monstrous size of the mythical Titans or giants who are fabled to be of the greatest in size ever born. Milton extends the simile into a comparison of Satan with Leviathan. It serves to build up the suggestion of awe and mystery that Milton intends to accumulate round Satan. The suggestion of Satan’s huge dimensions is emphasized by another simile in which Satan’s massive, ponderous, round shield is compared to the moon –
          “The broad circumference
          Hung on his shoulders like the moon”.
Immediately onwards Milton digresses by referring to Galileo viewing the moon through his telescope. This reference to Galileo though not related to the Original object of analogy, serves to add – a super terrestrial dimension to the poem.

          Another significant simile is the one which compares the innumerable angels fallen and groveling in the lake of fire to the cloud of locusts. Milton’s comparisons of angels with locusts are significant because the locusts are messengers of disasters and their association with the angel serves to suggest the evil nature of the fallen angel. Milton in another simile compares the fallen angels with the autumnal leaves thickly strewn on the streams in vallambrosa. The reference of fallen leaves is very appropriate since it suggests and reinforces the fallen nature and diminished glory of the angels in hell.

          Finally, one should also mention another very significant simile in which the thick airy could of angels in pandemonium is compared to bees:
          “As bees
 In springtime, when the sun with Taurus rides.
 Pour forth their populous youth above the hire
In clusters;”

The diminutive size of the bees and the angels is a clear painter to the fact that in spiritual essence the angels in hell are funny.

          Milton’s similes, it is fair to say in the conclusion serve to suggest dipper realities and do not merely exist as grand images and rich decorative embellishments. Altogether, Milton’s similes testify to the wide range of his knowledge, observation, memory and classical scholarship and familiarity with the course of ancient histories. These add to the pomp and magnificence of his narrative, breaking into them pleasantly and preventing us from feeling a sense of monotony.

Hi Friends!
The great part in Milton's writing is his style and it is called Grand Style. It is all about grandeur, majesty and dignity. His epic similes are the part of it. Here you can not find the lyric passions or variety like that of Shakespeare but the loftiness of thought, felicity of rhythmic words, boost of expression and arresting logical syllogism make his language a grand genius in the history of world language.

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