Milton’s Use of Similes in Paradise Lost Book-1

Milton’s Use of Similes in Paradise Lost Book-1

Milton’s Use of Similes in Paradise Lost Book-1 : The most striking feature of Milton’s style in Paradise Lost is his use of the epic or expanded simile. An ordinary simile consists in a comparison between two things of different kinds, expressed by the use of the word ‘like’ or ‘as’. An epic or expanded simile is a complex type of simile in which the point of likeness is elaborated to such an extent that it gives birth to a short descriptive poem in itself.  It serves the purpose of illustration and decoration. Miltonic similes are marked by their grand style, their terrible and vivid images and their impact on the imagination of the reader.

Milton’s Use of Similes in Paradise Lost Book-1

Milton’s similes are two-fold. Some of similes are small, while others are grand and have been described as Homeric similes. Let us consider the extended description of Satan with the help of a simile which indicates his gigantic size:

‘Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate

With head up-lift above the wave, and eyes

That sparkling blazed; his other parts besides

Prone on the flood, extended long and large


So stretcht out huge in length the arch-fiend lay

Chained on the burning lake.’

On going through this simile we learn that Satan is compared first to the legendary Titans, then at much more length to the Levia-than which God ‘of all His works created hugest.’ Milton develops old mariners’ fish stories of a sea creature larger even than the whale, which had been often mistaken by pilots for an island against which they tried to moor their boats. Only after eight lines of such details, we return to Satan who is being compared with these things-‘So similes stretcht out, huge in length the arch-fiend lay.’

In our second example, let us take the famous simile in which the mass of fallen angels are seen.

‘Thick as Autumnal leaves that strow the brooks

In Vallombrosa.’

Milton here suddenly reduces the size and significance of the host and at the same time brings a breath of fresh air into the poem. The perspective, as well as the atmosphere, shifts again when Milton goes on to compare them to Pharaoh’s horsemen drowned in the Red Sea. Milton, here begins by comparing the fallen angels to the scattered sedge afloat on the Red Sea, and then with a characteristic use of clauses (when..whose..while) he reminds us that the Red Sea was the scene of the overthrow of Pharaoh’s host, and this defeated host is in a similar state.

To sum up, by using similes, the poet gives rest to his imagination exhausted by the sublimity of heaven and hell. He harmonizes between the sublime pictures of heaven or hell and the familiar scenes on the earth.

You Can also Read: Wordsworth justify his low and rustic life in poetry


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