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The subject proposed. Invocation of the Holy Spirit. The poem opens
with John baptizing at the river Jordan. Jesus, coming there, is baptized; and is attested by the descent of the Holy Ghost, and by a voice from Heaven, to be the Son of God. Satan, who is present, upon this immediately flies up into the regions of the air; where, summoning his infernal council, he acquaints them with his apprehensions that Jesus is that seed of the Woman, destined to destroy all their power; and points out to them the immediate necessity of bringing the matter to proof, and of attempting, by snares and fraud, to counteract and defeat the person from whom they have so much to dread : this office he offers himself to undertake ; and, his offer being accepted, sets out on his enterprise. In the meantime, God, in the assembly of holy Angels, declares that he has given up his Son to be tempted by Satan; but foretells that the tempter shall be completely defeated by him : upon which the Angels sing a hymn of triumph. Jesus is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness, while he is meditating on the commencement of his great office of Saviour of mankind. Pursuing his meditations, he narrates, in a soliloquy, what divine and philanthropic impulses he had felt from his early youth, and how his mother, Mary, on perceiving these dispositions in him, had acquainted him with the circumstances of his birth, and informed him that he was no less a person than the Son of God; to which he adds what his own inquiries and reflections had supplied in confirmation of this great truth, and particularly dwells on the recent attestation of it at the river Jordan. Our Lord passes forty days, fasting in the wilderness; where the wild beasts become mild and harmless in his presence. Satan now appears under the form of an old peasant; and enters into discourse with our Lord, wondering what could have brought him alone into so dangerous a place, and at the same time professing to recognise him for the person lately acknowledged by John at the river Jordan, to be the Son of God. Jesus briefly replies. Satan rejoins with a description of the difficulty of supporting life in the wilderness; and entreats Jesus, if he be really the Son of God, to manifest his divine power, by changing some of the stones into bread. Jesus reproves him, and at the same time tells him that he knows who he is. Satan instantly avows himself, and offers an artful
apology for himself and his conduct. Our blessed Lord severely reprimands him, and refutes every part of his justification. Satan, with much semblance of humility, still endeavours to justify himself; and, professing his admiration of Jesus and his regard for virtue, requests to be permitted at a future time to hear more of his conversation; but is answered, that this must be as he shall find permission from above. Satan then disappears, and the book closes with a short description of night coming on in the desert.
I, who erewhile the happy garden sung,
Thou Spirit, who ledst this glorious eremite
Now had the great proclaimer, with a voice
That heard the Adversary, who, roving still
About the world, at that assembly famed
“O ancient Powers of Air, and this wide world!
(For much more willingly I mention Air, “ This our old conquest, than remember Hell, “Our hated habitation), well ye know, “ How many ages, as the years of men, “ This universe we have possessed, and ruled, “In manner at our will, the affairs of Earth, " Since Adam and his facile consort Eve “ Lost Paradise, deceived by me ; though since “ With dread attending when that fatal wound “ Shall be inflicted by the seed of Eve Upon my
head. Long the decrees of Heaven Delay, for longest time to him is short ; “ And now, too soon for us, the circling hours “ This dreaded time have compassed, wherein we “ Must bide the stroke of that long-threatened wound; “ At least, if so we can, and, by the head
Broken,' be not intended all our power “ To be infringed, our freedom and our being, “ In this fair empire won of Earth and Air : “For this ill news I bring; the Woman's Seed, “ Destined to this, is late of woman born: “ His birth to our just fear gave no small cause ; " But his growth now to youth's full flower, displaying “ All virtue, grace, and wisdom, to achieve
Things highest, greatest, multiplies my fear. “ Before him a great prophet, to proclaim “ His coming, is sent harbinger, who all
In nd, in the consecrated stream, “ Pretends to wash off sin, and fit them, so