The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost concludes with Adam and Eve making their way out of Paradise. Still partners in the task assigned to them by God, they walk hand in hand but “with wandering steps and slow.” Does this signify reluctance? Or is it evidence of their infirmity now that sin has left its mark upon them?
They remain God’s stewards but in a world that has just begun to feel the effects of its broken condition. They have experienced God’s grace but the nature of their fellowship with him has changed. God was a familiar companion before sin entered the world. Now he is an invisible presence. Sin has also separated these two lovers from one another. They are hand in hand but they are no longer united in the way they were before they ate from the forbidden tree. In this double sense, their path out of Eden is a “solitary way.”
Milton’s closing words paint a picture of the human condition. They help me to understand the ambivalence I feel as a fellow pilgrim with Adam. God offers “hope and a future” to those who are scarred by sin (Jer. 29:11). But this experience of God’s presence and guidance is not unmixed. The path is often difficult and the way unclear. I am not always sensible of his presence and am sometimes slow to obey. The one great difference between my condition and Adam’s is that I know by experience what he knew only by promise. To use Milton’s language, “providence was his guide.” Christ is mine. The hope that he welcomed from afar is the hope that dwells within me through God’s Spirit and it is Christ that I follow “with wandering steps and slow.”
One thought on “With Wandering Steps and Slow”
the last two lines of Milton’s Paradise Lost are without doubt two of the most beautiful ones in English poetry