In order to describe something as unearthly and difficult to imagine as Hell, Milton skilfully and creatively uses images of destruction which every reader can relate to. Extreme forces of nature, in particular volcanoes, described in vivid and powerful language, easily convey to us a landscape which might otherwise have been impossible to visualise.
This passage begins with a very memorable image of Satan at last summoning the strength to rise up from the lake on which he has fallen. By using the word ?rears? Milton conjures up a sense of Satan being animal-like and huge. He further emphasises Satan?s size and power through the explosive image of flames separating on either side of him like wolves: ?On each hand the flames, Driven backward slope their pointings, spires and rolled, In billions leave i? the midst a horrid value?. This also serves to remind us that Satan and the rest of the fallen angels are surrounded by a landscape of flickering, torturous fire.
The vision we are given of Satan ?aloft? and with ?expanded wings? is striking, but Milton soon balances it with a sense of awkwardness, as though some of Satan?s awesome strength has been diminished by the battle:
In this way, Milton swiftly highlights the vast differences between Heaven and Hell and reminds us of what the angels have lost. There then follows a long and very vivid description of Hell as a landscape of erupting volcanoes, flowing lava, and earthquakes. As well as conforming to classical images of Hell as a fiery, unstable place, Milton allows us to relate to it by providing a human element to the scene.
For example, ?thundering Aetna?, a volcano in Sicily, is used in the description, which ensures that it is not too distant from human experience and knowledge. As Satan lands, Milton gives us the powerful image of this semi-molten world that lasts through out the passage ? for nothing in Hell is stable and even dry land is as tempestuous and fiery as ?liquid fire?.
As well as describing the landscape, Milton also breathes a tumultuous force and energy into it, through means of his powerful words. The ?subterranean wind? is strong enough to rip a hill from its setting, and the whole scene is shrouded by ?stench and smoke?. The most powerful image however, is that of a burning fire, and it is one Milton returns to again and again, linking it to how people at the time thought volcanoes were formed:
As we visualize the continuous eruptions and burning fury of Hell, leaving behind the ?singed bottom? of a crater, Milton?s vivid powers of description result in an image which is not easily forgotten. The powerful rhythm of this passage, most of which is made up of one long sentence, also adds to this impressions of force constantly building up and exploding fuelled by hate and rebellion for eternity.
The image Milton leaves us with, is one of a highly unstable place, where the forces of nature erupt day and night, and where even Satan?s power is somewhat weakened. It is a destructive, threatening and forceful image, and Milton?s triumph is that he makes it accessible to us by linking it to what we already know and dread.