Borges, Milton, and the Rose

“A Rose and Milton”

“A Rose and Milton”

What do these writers have in common: Homer, John Fante, Benito Pérez Galdós, John Milton, and Jose Luis Borges? For at least part of their lives, all were blind. So when Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges honors Milton, it is by way of acknowledging a common fate. The name of this poem is “A Rose and Milton”:

A Rose and Milton

From the generations of roses
That are lost in the depths of time
I want one saved from oblivion,
One spotless rose, of all things
That ever were. Fate permits me
The gift of choosing for once
That silent flower, the last rose
That Milton held before him,
Unseen. O vermilion, or yellow
Or white rose of a ruined garden,
Your past still magically remains
Forever shines in these verses,
Gold, blood, ivory or shadow
As if in his hands, invisible rose.

Of course, Milton could not see the color of that last rose he beheld. He could not see whether that last rose was spotless and perfect. Whatever that rose was, it was unperceived by the great poet who held it in his hands; it might as well have been invisible, or, just as well, resplendent in its glory.

The poet talks about being allowed by Fate to handle that last rose that Milton held. I could just see the ironic smile playing on Borges’s face. Very Zen, in effect.

Blake’s Milton

The Expulsion of Satan and His Angels from Heaven

The Expulsion of Satan and His Angels from Heaven

William Blake was not only a great poet, but he was also a great artist. When I was younger, I used to think that his art was a bit clunky—until I started reading his poetry. Then I saw that both the poetry and the art were all of a piece: they were like flames from a mind and heart on fire.

It was in his greatest poem, “The Marriage of Heaven & Hell,” that William Blake wrote this line:

The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.

Certainly, Book I of Paradise Lost shows a Satan who is unrepentant and verging on the magnificent:

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me.

At the same time, Milton’s God is also splendid. When he hears that Satan is loose on Earth, he foresees what is to come and sends the Archangel Raphael to explain to Adam and Eve the story of the fall of Satan and his angel followers. Blake illustrates the scene thus:

Note the Snake Wrapped Around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Background

Note the Snake Wrapped Around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Background

In actuality, Milton has Eve fall into a sleep while Raphael talks with Adam.

Blake’s Eden is strangely desert-like, whereas Milton gives us a verdant creation in which Adam and Eve are early agronomists who take care of the plants as part of their daily tasks. No matter, Blake is an artist in his own right and has no compunctions about creating his own Paradise Lost in pictures.