DON JUAN: Why, to be able to choose the line of greatest advantage instead of yielding in the direction of the least resistance. Does a ship sail to its destination no better than a log drifts nowhither? The philosopher is Nature’s pilot. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer.
From Philip Pullman’s introduction to Oxford World’s Classics edition of Paradise Lost.
The Story as a Poem
So I begin with sound. I read Paradise Lost not only with my eyes, but with my mouth. … And thus it was that I first heard lines like this. Satan is making his way across the wastes of hell towards the new world he intends to corrupt, and a complex and majestic image evokes his flight: [Book II, lines 636-43]
As when far off a fleet at sea descried
Hangs in the clouds, by equinoctial winds
Close sailing from Bengala, or the Isles
Of Ternate and Tidor, whence merchants bring
Their spicy drugs: they on the trading flood
Through the wide Ethiopian to the Cape
Ply stemming nightly toward the pole. So seemed
far off the flying fiend . . .
… To see these things and hear them most vividly, I found that I had to take the lines in my mouth and utter them aloud. A whisper will do; you don’t have to bellow it, and annoy the neighbours; but air has to pass across your tongue and through your lips. Your body has to be involved.
Time retains its sacred right
to meddle in each earthly affair.
Still, time’s unbound power
that makes a mountain crumble,
moves seas, rotates a star,
won’t be enough to tear lovers apart: they are
too naked, too embraced
too much like timid sparrows.
I’ve been reflecting on the difference between writers and artists. Mostly artists are in interested in the process even they’re impatient to finish their work. While writers are mostly interested in writing “The End” (with a sigh of relief) on the final revision. I saw a Constable exhibition in London a few years ago. Many of his studies were like finished paintings. I’ve started to wonder whether multiple drafts are similar to preparatory studies for large scale paintings.