Give a description of Hell as depicted in Paradise Lost, Book-1.

Paradise Lost

Answer: In Paradise Lost, Milton gives a vivid’ and effective Picture of Hell. Hell is a place of torment, evoking the quality of sinister wilderness. It is a “dismal situation waste and wild” as Satan realizes on surveying place to which he has fallen. It is the “infernal world” of horrors. The place resembles a dungeon burning like a furnace. But the flames give on light, or only just enough light to emphasize the darkness—“darkness visible”.

The little light brings to Satan’s sight the misery, and sorrowful places where “rest can never dwell” and hope, which comes to all beings, is totally absent. There is only never-ending torture, since there is no release from here for the fallen angels. They have fallen into a “fiery gulf’, a “fiery deluge” fed with “ever-burning sulphur unconsumed”. The ocean of fire spreads over an indefinite space. The place is constantly afflicted with “floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire.” The place is compared to a volcano:

Whose grisly top
Belched fire and rolling smoke; the rest entire
Shone with a glossy scurf, undoubted sign
That in his womb was hid metallic ore
The work of sulphur.  (LI. 670-74)

The “torrid clime vaulted with fire” naturally produced intense heat. The dry land is solid fire just as the lake is of liquid fire. Milton compares the fiery land with the bottom of the burning Pelorus or Aetna which is torn From its base by a violent underground wind and, on catching fire, converts solid minerals into vapor and blown off rocks. What is left is a burnt surface at the bottom, all wrapped up in smoke and foul smell.

Milton in his description of Hell in Lines 59-75 makes use of the medieval notion—that HelI, being a place where the damned arc deprived of the sight of God (who is light), is a place of sorrowful darkness. The Old Testament description of the land of the dead is also recalled “where the light is as darkness.” Hell is a place far removed from the light of Heaven, and the difference between the two places is clearly suggested:

“Oh how unlike the place from where the fell”

The greatest punishment is to be deprived of the beatific vision, and to be immersed in eternal despair.

Milton presents the abstract as concrete. He uses striking images “dry land”, “burning lake”, “gate”, etc, contribute to the technique of making the abstract into concrete.

Milton’s Hell is described partly as the reader might see it, and partly through Satan’s eye. The objective and subjective torments of Hell are thus mingled. We view Hell and also experience it from the point of view of Satan who is to dwell in it for ever that Hell is a place of confusion and contradiction is brought out by the description-it is a place where fire exists without light and darkness is almost tangible and this darkness itself reveals the sight of misery.

The hopelessness of Hell is an important feature to note. Man can bear suffering and pain partly because of the hope that it will end sometime. What is more important, complete hopelessness indicates an inner disintegration. But the fallen angels have brought Hell upon themselves. “The devils, like fallen men, are caught in a recalcitrant and dangerous world of their own making: having tried to burst Heaven, they find themselves domiciled in a volcano”. And they have to face it for eternity.

Milton, however, does not make Hell formless, even though he does not indicate its size or degree of heat. Sea and land exist and from its soil the precious metals are refined which go into the construction of Pandemonium. It gives the atmosphere of busy planning, “of life as nearly as lively as ever, of energies unquenched” says Waldock.


Satan contemplates the fiery wilderness but rises valiantly to try and overcome despair. He hails the “Infernal world” and declares that the “mind is its own place” and can in itself “make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven”.

He Declares:
“Here we may reign secure; though in Hell,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell,
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

He speaks to his fellow fallen angels not to languish and despair but to resolve upon war. His words evoke the response of flashing swords and shields sounding the “din of war”, all hurling defiance towards the “vault of heaven”. So they go on to build Pandemonium, the capital of Hell. One may call all this “activity”. But all the frantic activity is merely a façade to hide the utter despair and hopelessness of fallen angels. Beelzebub acknowledges the defeat, but Satan cannot. However, his words bear Semblance of worth, not substance.

Milton’s Hell is a place of discords where the angels move in silence to soft pipes that charm their painful step over the burnt soil. Its hollow deep resounds with jarring sounds. Milton’s graphic description has overwhelming effect. It serves Milton’s purpose of indicting the eternal torments of the fallen angels. It is a hopeless dungeon where all activity is inspired by the aim of warring against Omnipotence. Such an aim vitiates any “meaningfulness” in the activity.