In Book 4 of Milton’s Paradise Lost, it becomes apparent that Paradise is not quite what one would expect it to be. While it is situated atop a mountain, offering a grand view of the surroundings, it is also surrounded by a “verdurous wall” on all sides. While it is described as a beautiful garden, Paradise is often portrayed as a jungle-like setting, requiring work to maintain. These two potential flaws in the idyllic world of Adam and Eve present difficult questions as to why the author chooses to depict it in such a manner.
When Satan attempts his siege of Paradise, the narrative describes the lofty trees that surround the outside of the garden: “Yet higher than their tops / The verdurous wall of Paradise up sprung” (4.142-143). In the lines following these, the text describes the giant fruit-bearing trees inside the confines of the wall, and continues to portray the beauty of Paradise. Despite its location between two sentences that depict such grandeur, the sentence which describes the wall is not easily passed over by the careful reader. Why is Paradise surrounded by a wall so high as to tower over trees? Why is a wall necessary to separate Paradise, with its two inhabitants, from the rest of an unpopulated world?
One possible answer to this dilemma is that it is designed to keep out those who are not worthy to enter. This might also serve to explain the guardian angels at the gate of Paradise. They seemingly protect it from invasion. Despite these precautions, however, the one who is most unworthy to enter, Satan, leaps over the wall with great ease. In fact, the brambles and thicket that surround the garden seem to be a more effective deterrent against Satan than does the wall. Thus, the question remains: who can the wall defend against, if it cannot stop angel or devil from traversing it, in a world where there exist only two humans?
Perhaps the answer lies in not whom the wall can keep out, but whom it can keep in. The lines that directly follow the description of the wall ring with a perplexing irony: “Which to our general sire gave prospect large / Into his nether empire neighboring round” (4.144-145). Assuming that Adam, the “general sire” can even climb to the top of the wall, an assumption that does not seem readily plausible, he can only admire a view of his empire. He is unable to descend the other side of the wall since the trees on that side are seemingly much shorter than the wall. Thus, he becomes an emperor imprisoned in Paradise, unable to enjoy the empire over which he was set lord and master.
One might propose, at this point, that neither Adam nor Eve have any reason to leave the confines of Paradise. Why should they want to escape such a magnificent place? The reason may lie in the possibility that the place is not as perfect as one might imagine. In parts of the text, Paradise is described as the peaceful garden that the modern reader has come to expect. The narrative depicts Adam and Eve as enjoying each others’ company, while reclining on a “downy bank” as the animals frolic for their amusement. When one examines the text further, however, it becomes apparent that both Adam and Eve must work to maintain the land on which they live: “With first approach of light, we must be risen / And at our pleasant labor, to reform / Yon flow’ry arbors, yonder alleys green, / Our walk at noon, with branches overgrown / That mock our scant manuring, and require / More hands than ours to lop their wanton growth” (4.624-629). This aspect of their lives seems contrary to the depiction of Paradise in the Bible.
According to Paradise Lost, Adam labors to maintain not only the trees and foliage, but he also cultivates the ground. In the Biblical account, however, toil and cultivation of the earth are his punishments for defying God’s command, not his duty while in Paradise:
Because of what you have done, the ground will be under a curse. You will have to work hard all your life to make it produce enough food for you. (Genesis 3:17)
These discrepancies between the Miltonic description and what the modern reader has come to believe as Paradise are difficult to reconcile. His deviation from the Bible is even more difficult to understand. Perhaps, in the latter case, the puritanical Milton believed that hard work was a blissful necessity, even in Paradise. It may also be that these questions are insignificant because, as Satan enviously surmises, Adam and Eve’s bliss lies in their ability to know good, while remaining ignorant of evil. Unfortunately, if none of these are true, the cause may be that Milton was in the unenviable position that all human beings share: he could not experience Paradise himself, and could only interpret its nature from outside the wall.