Reading Milton in Japan

Akira Arai, Seigakuin University

     Please let me begin with my biographia literaria or biographia miltonica.  I was born in the early 1930s in the age of rising nationalism in Japan.  That means spending my early boyhood in an educational system in which we were taught to adore our Emperor as a living god.  So when the war ended with Japan completely defeated for the first time in its long history, we were at a loss what to do and where to head in our future.  Yet in spite of such sense of loss and confusion, there was also a new sense of freedom and liberation, too.  It was in such historical milieu that I, by chance rather than by choice, began to read Milton.
During the war I was in Tsuruoka, northern Japan.  My family had evacuated from Tokyo to escape the ever intensifying air-raids and deteriorating food situation. When I went to high school there after the war ended, I joined an English conversation club.  In the club, each member was supposed to assume the name of some great literary figure in British or American literature.  It so happened that I was to be John Milton.  Little did I dream then that I was to read him professionally and to study and translate his works.
     At Tokyo University of Education, my academic advisor Professor Yukio Iriye, a scholar of Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested to me (or one might say, ordered me!) that I should focus on the writings of John Milton for my graduation thesis.  To tell the truth, I was surprised when I heard him mention Milton: it was my understanding that Milton was extremely difficult for someone like me to read and comprehend.  In fact, all we had in our university library were James H. Hanford’s A Milton Handbook (1926) and Frank A. Patterson’s The Student’s Milton (1933), but no Lockwood’s Lexicon (1907).  During the summer of my senior year, I went every day to the Metropolitan library then located in Ueno to read and take notes from A. Verity’s edition of Paradise Lost.  Yet, though notes accumulated day by day, I was at a loss how to proceed with Paradise Lost.  In autumn I ended up choosing to write on Samson Agonistes, shorter and more manageable.
     In 1956, during my time in graduate school in Tokyo, I was invited to Amherst College, Massachusetts, on the Uchimura Scholarship named for Kanzo Uchimura, who was the founder of the Mukyokai or Non-church Movement and its followers included Takeshi Fujii, translator of Paradise Lost for the influential Iwanami edition.  I felt as it were, guided by the spirits of the poet and the translator to my new New England setting.  Completing my two years at Amherst I had the opportunity to do advanced studies at the Rackham School of the University of Michigan.  I was most fortunate to be able to make acquaintances with Professor C. L. Barber in New England.  I met Professor Frank L. Huntley in Ann Arbor.  Professor Huntley had taught Milton as a professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto before World War I and by that time moved to Ann Arbor.  In his article “Milton Studies in Japan” included in Comparative Literature (1961), Professor Huntley called Japanese Miltonists to the attention of the West, and gave encouraging words: “They need our criticism, and we their insight” (113).  I am really grateful to those American scholars for their encouragement of a young Japanese student like me.  When I returned to Japan in 1959, I had become a devoted student of the seventeenth-century English poets and intellectuals in general and of John Milton in particular.
     When reading Milton’s works I was most surprised to find that his prose works were must-reads to understand his poetry during the age of the Puritan Revolution.  Late Professor Fumio Ochi, then President of Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, Kyoto, was, I discovered, a superb scholar in Japan in the field of Milton’s treatises as well as of his literary works.  Stimulated by Professor Ochi’s essays, I was able to advance to Milton’s prose works, including Areopagitica and Of Education, and then on to Defensios, and his other prose writings, both ecclesiastical and political.  Some of them were read and later translated afterwards with my younger friends over a period of more than twenty years.  The fruits were: Of Reformation in England (1976), The Reason of Church-Government (1986), The Judgement of Martin Bucer Concerning Divorce (1992), The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1998), Defensio Pro Populo Anglicano and Defensio Secunda (2003).  I found it necessary to translate Milton’s prose works as well as poetical works for Japanese readers.
     That is why I was once criticized as “a Miltonist who acutally reads his prose works!”  (Such criticism notwithstanding, my essays “Lycidas, ll.128-131: ‘That two-handed engine,’” “Samson’s ‘Death So Noble,’” and “The Trial of Christ in Paradise Regained” were very fortunately introduced in Milton Quarterly in 1972.  I translated Paradise Lost (1978), Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes (1982).  Taking into consideration a style of Japanese spoken by the younger generations, I aimed at giving a plain and rhythmic translation in Milton’s major poems.  After I published them, I received quite a few critical comments as well as praise from general readers.  Thanks to their candid opinions, I was able to revise my editions.  I think translation is a kind of work of cooperation in this respect.  I am happier than previous translators like Tenrai Shigieno and Takeshi Fujii, who seldom had such opportunities during their lifetime.
     So much for my autobiography.   Now I would like to elaborate more on the significance of Paradise Lost, especially its concluding five lines, to English readers in 1660s, to Japanese readers in the post-war period and to the Miltonists who have gathered here in 2012, as I consider what constitutes its quintessential epic quality.
     The epic, in my opinion, has to attain the world of bliss in the end as a “comedy,” just as Dante’s Divina Commedia (1307-21) shows.  Paradise Lost was so titled after Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata (or Jerusalem Delivered, 1575), which Milton loved to read.  Tasso’s epic, both in its title and its content is Middle-Age Latin and as such it sings not so much about delivered Jerusalem as about the historical process in which the First Crusaders set free the Holy City.  If the work is a divine comedy, it is so in that respect in which it sang a historical, military victory and therein lies the work’s epic quality.
     Paradise Lost is also an epic.  But its essence as an epic and divine comedy lies somewhere else.  In Paradise Lost Adam and Eve are expelled from the ever-spring Garden of Eden.  This is surely an expulsion, from the Garden to the wilderness, but it is an expulsion from the closed garden to the open world of history, in which and in which alone God’s salvific plan becomes a reality.  In that sense this expulsion can be seen more as a departure or an exodus, wherein Adam and Eve have acquired enough human dignity and individuality to choose, on their own free will and choice, their place of rest.  The first couple is setting out for a pilgrimage, a wayfaring, not into the past but into the future, which, in spite of many difficulties and dangers, has a sure goal that can be arrived at through right actions on human part assisted with divine will.
     If Milton declared in Areopagitica in 1644 that God left “the choice to each man’s discretion,” to his recta ratio, to make him “the true warfaring Christian” and denied “a mere artificial Adam” as defended by the absolute authority of the prelacy and monarchy, the same declaration took a more dramatic form, in the figures of Adam and Eve in the last scene of Paradise Lost.

Some Natural tears they dropp’d, but wip’d soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir gide:
They hand in hand with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitary way.   (XII, 645-49)

Here we see two people, relying solely on “Providence” or God’s will, with the capacity of choice, “to choose / Thir place of rest.”  This is a wholly new image of human beings, reborn and whose bonds are based on “new love”: and as a sign of that love they go mutually, “hand in hand.”  Most importantly, they are people who do not linger but move forward, however slowly or falteringly, guided solely by Providence.
     For English readers in the 1660s, those lines which portray the departure of Adam and Eve under the guidance of Providence were in themselves a guide, especially for those “expelled” in the Restoration―such as the Presbyterians and the Independents as well as Milton himself.  The attitude the poet suggests they should have in these concluding lines is such, I might say, that characterized the Pilgrim Fathers a generation earlier, who departed their home country, also “Providence thir guide,” for what they believed to be their promised land.  As the spiritual descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers, the expelled Dissenting, Non-Conforming readers in their wilderness of political defeat must have found solace and encouragement in those Miltonic lines as they internalized their vision of New Jerusalem in the reality of their defeat.
     For Japanese readers immediately after World War II, those lines offered relief and release.  In Milton’s portraiture of Adam and Eve un-paradised yet with their freedom of choice under Providence’s guidance, they saw the new, ideal image of themselves, in defeat to be sure, but freed from that traditional Japanese morality in which the Emperor was a supernatural entity.  They were in the wilderness of military defeat, but they were no longer forced to worship the Emperor, one who had not been divine in the first place.  In that sense, “the World was all before them” where they were now allowed to chart their course of action.  The figures of Adam and Eve exodused into the wilderness were something that the post-war Japanese could identify themselves with, as they, too, as a result of their defeat, were forced to make a new departure.
     What significance do Paradise Lost in general and its concluding lines in particular have to us Miltonists in 2012?  As far as Japan is concerned, it is beset by a number of difficult problems―the aftermaths of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and the accident at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant ensuing, to name but two.  The world at large is no less reeling from serious problems: continued recession and unemployment, ethnic tensions, environmental problems, etc.  In short we, too, are literally in the “wilderness”.  Nonetheless, as Miltonists who believe what Milton believed, I propose that we living in this wilderness should live and move ahead, just like Adam and Eve; with “wand’ring steps and slow” to be sure, but hand in hand, trusting in Providence that is the sole hope: for what seems to be the most accursed moment in the world’s history can in fact be the time of blessing, if only we have the heart and mind of Adam and Eve to notice it.
 Paradise Lost is a song of praise, which thanks God for a paradise “happier far” that has become possible in spite of, or rather because of, man’s loss of the original paradise and his expulsion into the wilderness.  That is why Paradise Lost is an epic, rather than a tragedy.  It does not end with a lamentation of the lost Eden but with the celebration of the wilderness―here and now, a place of history, rather than of myth―where, under the guidance of Providence, those passing through it can hope and trust.  Let us Miltonists, who have gathered together in this hall from far and wide, be fellow Pilgrims in that Journey.  For myself I am both honored and delighted to be here with my wayfaring Miltonic colleagues.  Thank you very much.