Summary of Book XI of “Paradise Lost”
Book XI of John Milton’s Paradise Lost continues the resolution that began in Book X. It begins with Adam and Eve’s prayer for forgiveness from the Father, which wafts “Dimensionless through heavenly doors” to His Throne (xi.17). The Son realizes the beauty of the Father’s plan for Mankind; He proclaims that the prayers of the contrite are far sweeter and truer than the prayers of the innocent and becomes the intercessor for Adam and Eve. The Son asks the Father to forgive the humans of their sins and offers His life as the sacrifice that will perfect mankind. The Father assents to the Son’s wishes but decrees that the humans must leave Paridise and will have neither Happiness nor Immortality again until Death takes them. The Father then sends Michael and the Cherubim to execute His wishes.
While Adam awaits God’s judgment, he consoles Eve and reminds her of God’s promise that their seed would one day crush the Serpent’s head. Michael’s news crushes the couple, but he lifts their spirits by telling them that God’s presence is not confined to Eden, and He will always look out for them. Michael then takes Adam to the top of the highest hill in the world, the same slope which Satan and Jesus would ascend years later, and shows him several visions of the future. Michael shows Adam many troubling things: the murder of Abel, various types of diseases, the seduction of good men by pagan temptresses, war, and the flood. Adam, seeing the imminent sins and destruction of mankind, laments his existence: “Why is life given / To be thus wrested from us? who, if we knew / What we receive, would either not accept / Life offered, or soon beg to lay it down, / Glad to be so dismissed in peace” (xi.503-7). The Archangel continually reassures Adam that the world is a good place and that good men will inhabit it as well, including Noah, whom God will save from the flood. Adam rejoices “for one man found so perfect and so just / That God vouchsafes to raise another world / From him, and all his anger to forget” (xi.876-8). Michael assents and notes that in his sorrow and his mercy, God will promise to never destroy the world again. Here ends Book XI; Michael’s speech continues in Book XII.