Carrol Cox wrote:
> Labor that is _chosen_ is (as I noted in
> my reference to Sahlins) play, not labor.
> I would read the sonnet not as displeasure at "standing and waiting" so
> much as responding to the intense feeling that he _should_ be up and
> going. That is where Tolstoi's point about the peacetime army comes in
> -- ordinary life ("fallen life" I suppose one should say) makes leisure
> something that one "steals" from one's duties, but in the peacetime army
> (at least, I guess, the army of imperial Russia) leisure becomes
> mandatory, hence offering the bliss of eden. The kind of conversation
> Milton seems to place so high among human pleasures requires leisure. So
> I think one should see a good deal more than mere consolation in the
> sonnet's final line -- rather something like great relief and joy. What
> he really wants is what god demands of him. The temptation to be up and
> doing is just that, a temptation, and one to be resisted.
> No one ever composed 12 thousand+ lines such as make up PL and felt the
> process as drudgery!
Thank you for the information about the divorce tracts.
I can't agree to your conflation of leisure with work that is
enjoyed or chosen, or of such work with play, in relation to Milton.
He was of a different mind than you. I chose the wrong register
when I said "He is not pleased to stand and wait." He was profoundly
shaken, remembering the parable of the talents. He did not consider his
writing to be leisure or play (though we may delight in the Lady, as he
was called at Cambridge, waking, in urgent need of an amanuensis. with
the shout "milk me".)
"Leisure" appears only twice in PL. (No appearances of any other
forms of the word.) Each leisure belongs to Satan: the first (end book
ii) is when he first sees the earth and is prelude to the curse to come;
the second (x.510), ends his leisure -- it follows the fall, just as
Satan is about to be turned (by God this time) into a serpent "punished
in the shape he sinned, / According to his doom." These seem to be
strong delimiters for a tentative thesis that, at least in PL, leisure,
"Leisure" appears in _Il Pensero_, in a garden. This garden though
Neither Adam nor Eve calls their work leisure. When Eve proposes a
division of labor in book ix, Adam agrees. (The argument that Eve is
devious doesn't void Adam's thinking she has put their situation and her
Adam, well may we labour still to dress
This garden, still to tend plant, herb, and flower,
Our pleasant task enjoined; but, till more hands
Aid us, the work under our labour grows,
Luxurious by restraint; what we by day
Lop overgrown, or prune, or prop, or bind,
One night or two with wanton growth derides
Tending to wild. Thou therefore now advise,
Or bear what to my mind first thoughts present:
Let us divide our labours; thou, where choice
Leads thee, or where most needs, ... [ix.205-215]
The "pleasant task" recalls the "mild yoke" in "When I consider," taken
from Matthew xi.30. It is not chosen work, though it is pleasant.
Milton's Puritanism was based on the Old Testament covenant of work.
You make a good point that he wants to do God's bidding, but the sonnet
posits his talent to be that bidding. Whether the failing light is his
sight or inspiration (both arguments have been made), he wants to be
able to invest his talents for the sake of God. I hadn't before read
joy or relief (expect in a hope that he won't be damned) in the poem.
I'll entertain your ideas in future readings. I don't know about your
Adam's "irksome toil" answers "pleasant task," not remission of
labour. It would be another sort of work.
Adam allows for "refreshment" when, as you say, conversation (and
looks of love) can take place. Refreshment implies there will be return
to the interrupted activity, which here is work.
To whom mild answer Adam thus returned.
Sole Eve, associate sole, to me beyond
Compare above all living creatures dear!
Well hast thou motioned, well thy thoughts employed,
How we might best fulfil the work which here
God hath assigned us; nor of me shalt pass
Unpraised: for nothing lovelier can be found
In woman, than to study houshold good,
And good works in her husband to promote.
Yet not so strictly hath our Lord imposed
Labour, as to debar us when we need
Refreshment, whether food, or talk between,
Food of the mind, or this sweet intercourse
Of looks and smiles; for smiles from reason flow,
To brute denied, and are of love the food;
Love, not the lowest end of human life.
For not to irksome toil, but to delight,
He made us, and delight to reason joined. [ix.205-243]