Mark Schwartz was the driving force behind Paradise Lost sessions, hosted weekly by Elizabeth Spence. The 17th century poem tells the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Peter Martyn photo

Have you ever wondered why things go badly?

Hideous diseases, old age, death, war, crime, blood-soaked cruelty and rank evil are constants in our world. Or to put it sagely, thus has it always been, and thus shall it ever be.

On Sunday afternoons, for the past month, almost 30 people from all walks of life gathered at Elizabeth Spence’s home in Tatamagouche and, under her guidance, mulled over this most disturbing of questions. They did so by reading and discussing John Milton’s 17th century epic poem “Paradise Lost”, the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

West New Annan based artist Mark Schwartz was the catalyst for the sessions. In August he asked Spence if she would give a series of lectures on the poem. 

As Schwartz said, “we are all looking for meaning in these troubled times; in the wake of ISIS we are searching for ways to navigate through life and classic literature can sometimes suggest a path.”

For Malagash resident and retired X-ray therapist Delma Wipfli, Paradise Lost was previously a closed book. The sessions changed all that for her. 

“It took some concentration but it gave me the opportunity to have some deeper thoughts about religion,” she said.

Spence generously agreed to host the sessions. Her background as a professor of literature and music specializing in the 17th century equipped her to lead the classes. 

“I have a wide range of intellectual interests centring on western civilization. I love being inside my head and I love teaching,” she said.

She admits to having lived with the poem for the last five months. 

The enthusiasm in the sessions was palatable. That a small rural village can attract so many people to chew over such a weighty topic as the fall of man, by studying a poem of ten thousand lines, is truly extraordinary. In attendance were carpenters, ministers, artists, housewives, farmers, retired schoolteachers and a medical doctor. These are all noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life but literature is where we find meaning.

“We are captivated by a thirst for knowledge and for answers to the big questions in life,” Spence said.

For Milton, there is hope. Evil exists but it is up to the individual to fight it. It is everyone’s personal responsibility to use his right reason to combat the evil within himself.

The classes have been so successful that subsequent sessions on other great works of literature are being considered. All are invited. There is no charge but a free will offering to the SPCA is encouraged. Please keep your ears to the ground for more details or contact Mark Schwartz at makeamark1@gmail.com.