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Description of Hell

Paradise Lost, Book-I gives us a brief but vivid picture of Hell. In the opening lines just after the prologue Milton goes on to describe Hell, the abode of the fallen angels. As we read the poem, we are instantly to visualise a region which is sinister, barren and wild. It is a place of burning fire where we find Satan and his "horrid crew" rolling and stupefied. Milton's pedantic description of Hell in Paradise Lost creates an impression of its vastness and nature. According Milton's cosmology Hell lies equally distant from Heaven to Earth's southern pole. It is a dismal place, waste and wild, a horrible dungeon filled with flames, which shed no light but only makes "darkness visible". It is the region of horrors, the place of never-ending torture, as there is no release from this punishment for the fallen angels.

The region, where Satan and his followers lie unconscious is far away from God and the light of Heaven as thrice the distance from the centre of the earth to the most distant pole of the Universe. The contrast between this place and the Heaven which Satan and his followers have lost is suggestively conveyed to us by the line: "Oh how unlike the place from whence they fell!" The place is perpetually afflicted with "floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire". (line 77)

Milton gives us contrasting pictures of Heaven and Hell through Satan's speech to the fallen angels: 

"It this the region, this the soil, the clime?"

Satan utters these words with a deep regret and with a sense of nostalgia. He views the region, the soil and the climate of Hell and finds that if they have to live here, they have undergone a tremendous reversal of fortune. Hell is an abode of "mournful gloom" and Heaven where they previously lived and from where they were thrown out as a result of their impious war against God, was a realm of "celestial light". But Satan and his followers have no option in the matter. They are eternally damned and ordained to live in hell. So Satan bids farewell to the joyful realms of Heaven and commands the horrors of Hell to welcome and assure his kingdom that his mind is steadfast. It is not going to be changed by the ugliness of Hell. In fact, he professes that his mind is independent of the influences of place or time. The implication is that his is a devilish mind even in Heaven and it would make no difference to him he is now in Hell. His wickedness is eternal as well as universal.

The lack of visual clarity increases the evocative power of the poet in giving account of Hell. We at once realize, Hell is a state of mind as well as a place, as it is evident from Satan's speech:

"A mind not to be changed by place or times"

We understand that Hell has no limits, nor is it circumscribed in one place. Where the evil sprits dwell or where the evil thoughts are, is Hell.

In Paradise Lost Book-I, we find two distinct physical Hells in addition to the moral or spiritual Hell. The first Hell is a place of darkness which the lurid flickering light of fire serves only to make more dark. Geologically it is a volcanic region, "fed with ever-burning sulphur unconsumed". It is likely that Milton compares his Hell with the burning Aetna, the great volcano in the centre of Sicily. The idea of the second Hell comes in our mind at the end of Book-I with the building of the Pandemonium.

In conclusion we can say that Milton through the speeches of Stan gives an idea of Hell which is a state of mind as well as a place by his accurate fitting of the mind to the place. The mind is the source of happiness or misery, because the mind is capable of turning Hell into Heaven and of making Heaven of Hell. So Milton's Hell is not bound by time and space. It exists in the mind itself as Satan realizes and as he exposes his wicked designs to pollute mankind.


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