“Dream not of other Worlds”: Raphael, Adam, and Boundaries of Knowledge

During their discussion of Heaven and Earth in Book VIII, Raphael cautions Adam against asking to know too much: “be lowly wise:/ Think only what concerns thee and thy being; Dream not of other Worlds” (173-175), and Adam apparently assents, condemning humans’ overly inquisitive “Mind or Fancy” (188). I would like to examine the merits of Raphael’s counsel and the nature of Adam’s response, potentially questioning both.

Adam seems to appreciate Raphael’s admonition. In response, he praises the life God has given him—a life free from troubles “unless we ourselves/ Seek them with wand’ring thoughts, and notions vain” (186-187). As he then perceives, these “wand’ring thoughts” arise because “apt the Mind or Fancy is to rove/ Uncheckt, and of her roving is no end;/ Till warn’d, or by experience taught, she learn/ That…[t]hat which before us lies in daily life,/ Is the prime Wisdom” (188-194). His description of the mind’s “Uncheckt…roving” suggests that he sees it as an untrained faculty still in need of guidance, and he perhaps perceives and accepts Raphael’s words as that necessary guidance.

However, does Raphael’s counsel truly offer the benefits Adam apparently believes it does? The commands foreclose a multitude of seemingly reasonable questions which Adam and Eve might have. Would it be wrong for them to feel curious about circumstances outside of Eden? Adam seems to consent that it would, when he responds to Raphael that matters outside of everyday life are “emptiness” which leave him and Eve “Unpractic’d” and “unprepar’d” for dealing with the “things that most concern [us]” (195-197). But since the Garden is currently under threat from Satan (a force from outside their world) is “Dream not of other Worlds” really the best advice to offer Adam?

To further complicate matters, does Adam truly accept the command? His lengthy praise of Raphael’s doctrine would seem to imply that he does. But only a few lines later, he desires Raphael to continue their conversation because “while I sit with thee, I seem in Heav’n” (210). Considering that Raphael has just cautioned him against aspiring to know this place—“Heav’n is for thee too high/ To know what passes there” (172-173), Adam’s lingering desire for the sensations of Heaven casts some doubt over his acceptance. And not much later, he in fact continues to ask questions about the “heav’nly Spirits,” inquiring about the nature of “Love” in Heaven (615), further contradicting his assent.

With these complications, the passage presents two interrelated questions. First, how valid and helpful is Raphael’s advice for Adam? Second, does Adam intend to follow it? (And, depending on the answer to the first question, should he?)


Annemarie Lisko