Title page of the first edition (1668)
|Publisher||Samuel Simmons (original)|
|Followed by||Paradise Regained|
Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books. A second edition followed in 1674, redivided into twelve books (in the manner of the division of Virgil's Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification. The poem concerns the Christian story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton's purpose, stated in Book I, is to "justify the ways of God to men" and elucidate the conflict between God's eternal foresight and free will.
Milton incorporates Paganism, classical Greek references, and Christianity within the poem. It deals with diverse topics from marriage, politics (Milton was politically active during the time of the English Civil War), and monarchy, and grapples with many difficult theological issues, including fate, predestination, the Trinity, and the introduction of sin and death into the world, as well as angels, fallen angels, Satan, and the war in heaven. Milton draws on his knowledge of languages, and diverse sources — primarily Genesis, much of the New Testament, the deuterocanonical Book of Enoch, and other parts of the Old Testament. This epic is generally considered one of the greatest works in the English language.
The story was revised into twelve books after initial publication, following the model of the Aeneid of Virgil. The book lengths vary — the longest being Book IX, with 1,189 lines and the shortest, Book VII, having 640. In the second edition, each book was preceded by a summary titled "The Argument". The poem follows the epic tradition of starting in medias res (Latin for in the midst of things), the background story being told in Books V-VI.
Milton's story contains two arcs: one of Satan (Lucifer) and another of Adam and Eve. The story of Satan follows the epic convention of large-scale warfare. It begins after Satan and the other rebel angels have been defeated and cast by God into Hell, or as it is also called in the poem, Tartarus. In Pandæmonium, Satan employs his rhetorical skill to organize his followers; he is aided by his lieutenants Mammon and Beelzebub. Belial and Moloch are also present. At the end of the debate, Satan volunteers himself to poison the newly-created Earth. He braves the dangers of the Abyss alone in a manner reminiscent of Odysseus or Aeneas.
The story of Adam and Eve's temptation and fall is a fundamentally different, new kind of epic: a domestic one. Adam and Eve are presented for the first time in Christian literature as having a full relationship while still without sin. They have passions and distinct personalities. Satan successfully tempts Eve by preying on her vanity and tricking her with rhetoric, and Adam, seeing Eve has sinned, knowingly commits the same sin. He declares to Eve that since she was made from his flesh, they are bound to one another so that if she dies, he must also die. In this manner Milton portrays Adam as a heroic figure but also as a deeper sinner than Eve since he is smarter than Eve and knows that what he's doing is wrong.
After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve have lustful sex, and at first, Adam is convinced that Eve was right in thinking that eating the fruit would be beneficial. However, they soon fall asleep, having terrible nightmares, and after they awake, they experience guilt and shame for the first time. Realizing that they have committed a terrible act against God, they engage in mutual recrimination.
However, Eve's pleas to Adam reconcile them somewhat. Her encouragement enables Adam and Eve both to approach God, to "bow and sue for grace with suppliant knee," and to receive grace from God. Adam goes on a vision journey with an angel where he witnesses the errors of man and the Great Flood, and is saddened by the sin that they have released through consumption of the fruit. However, he is also shown hope — the possibility of redemption — through a vision of Jesus Christ. They are then cast out of Eden and the archangel Michael says that Adam may find "A paradise within thee, happier far." They now have a more distant relationship with God, who is omnipresent but invisible (unlike the previous, tangible, Father in the Garden of Eden).
The contents of the 12 books are:
Book I: In a long, twisting opening sentence mirroring the epic poetry of the Ancient Greeks, the poet invokes the "Heavenly Muse" (the Holy Spirit) and states his theme, the Fall of Man, and his aim, to "justify the ways of God to men." Satan, Beelzebub, and the other rebel angels are described as lying on a lake of fire, from which Satan rises up to claim Hell as his own domain and delivers a rousing speech to his followers ("Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."). The logic of Satan (Satanic Logic) is introduced by: "The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."
Book II: Satan and the rebel angels debate whether to wage another war on Heaven, and Beelzebub tells them of a new world being built which is to be the home of Man. Satan decides to visit this new world, passes through the Gates of Hell, past the sentries Sin and Death, and journeys through the realm of Chaos. Here, Satan is described as having given birth to Sin with a burst of flame from his forehead, before he began open warfare with God — as Athena was born from the head of Zeus.
Book III: God observes Satan's journey and foretells how Satan will bring about Man's Fall. God emphasises, that the Fall will come about as a result of Man's own free will, and excuses himself of responsibility. The Son of God offers himself as a ransom for Man's disobedience, an offer which God accepts, ordaining the Son's future incarnation and punishment. Satan arrives at the rim of the universe, disguises himself as an angel, and is directed to Earth by Uriel, Guardian of the Sun.
Book IV: Satan journeys to the Garden of Eden, where he observes Adam and Eve discussing the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan, observing their innocence and beauty hesitates in his task, but concludes that "reason just,/ Honour and empire" compel him to do this deed which he "should abhor." Satan tries to tempt Eve while she sleeps, but is discovered by the angels. The angel Gabriel expels Satan from the Garden.
Book V: Eve awakes and relates her dream to Adam. God sends Raphael to warn and encourage Adam: they talk of free will and predestination; Raphael tells Adam the story of how Satan inspired his angels to revolt against God.
Book VI: Raphael goes on to describe further the war in Heaven and explains how the Son of God drove Satan and his minions down to Hell.
Book VII: Raphael explains to Adam that God then decided to create another world (the Earth); he again warns Adam not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, for "in the day thou eat'st, thou diest;/ Death is the penalty imposed, beware,/ And govern well thy appetite, lest Sin/ Surprise thee, and her black attendant Death".
Book VIII: Adam tells the story of his creation from his own perspective, providing a counterpoint to Raphael's instruction in Book VI. Adam asks Raphael for knowledge concerning the stars and the angelic nature; Raphael warns "heaven is for thee too high/ To know what passes there; be lowly wise", and advises modesty and patience.
Book IX: Satan returns to Eden and enters into the body of a sleeping serpent. The serpent tempts Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. She eats and takes some fruit for Adam. Adam, realising Eve has been tricked, decides he would rather die with Eve than live without her; he eats of the fruit. At first the two become intoxicated by the fruit; they become lustful, engaging in sexual intercourse; afterwards, in their loss of innocence Adam and Eve cover their nakedness and fall into despair: "They sat them down to weep, nor only tears/ Rained at their eyes, but high winds worse within/ Began to rise, high passions, anger, hate,/ Mistrust, suspicion, discord, and shook greatly/ Their inward state of mind."
Book X: God sends his Son to Eden to deliver judgment on Adam and Eve. Satan returns in triumph to Hell.
Book XI: The Son of God pleads with his Father on behalf of Adam and Eve. God decrees the couple must be expelled from the Garden, and the angel Michael descends to deliver God's judgment. Michael begins to unfold the future history of the world to Adam.
Book XII: Michael tells Adam of the eventual coming of the Messiah, before leading Adam and Eve from the Garden. They have lost the physical Paradise, but now have the opportunity to enjoy a "Paradise within ... happier farr." The poem ends: "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 solitaire way." Milton has connected the condition of Adam and Eve with the condition of the reader of the epic.
Satan: Satan is the first major character introduced in the poem. He is introduced to Hell after a failed rebellion to wrestle control of Heaven from God. Satan's desire to rebel against his creator stems from his unwillingness to accept the fact he is a created being, and that he is not self-sufficient, which is rooted in his extreme Pride. One of the ways he tries to justify his rebellion against God is by claiming that he and the angels are self-created, declaring the angels "self-begot, self-raised", thereby eliminating God’s authority over them as their creator.
Satan is narcissistic, self-pitying, and persuasive although his logic is almost always flawed, disingenuous, misguiding, or all three. Satan's persuasive powers are first evident when he makes arguments to his angel-followers as to why they should try to overthrow God. He argues that they ought to have equal rights to God and that Heaven is an unfair monarchy, stating, "Who can in reason then or right assume/ Monarchy over such as live by right/ His equals, if in power and splendor less / In freedom equal? or can introduce/ Law and edict on us, who without law/ Err not, much less for this to be our Lord,/ And look for adoration to th' abuse/ Of those imperial titles which assert/ Our being ordained to govern, not to serve?."
Satan's persuasive powers are also evident during the scene in which he assumes the body of a snake in order to convince Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. First, he wins Eve's trust by giving her endless compliments. And when she is perplexed (and impressed) by a "serpent" that is able to talk, Satan tells her that he gained the ability to talk by eating from the Tree of Knowledge and argues that if she were to also eat from the Tree, she would become god-like. He convinces her that the fruit will not kill her and that God will not be upset with her if she eats from the tree. Like his argument to his followers, Satan also argues against God's omnipotence, stating "Why then was [eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil] forbid? Why but to awe,/ Why but to keep ye low and ignorant, / [God's] worshippers; he knows that in the day/ Ye eat thereof, your eyes that seem so clear,/ Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then/ Opened and cleared, and ye shall be as gods./ So ye shall die perhaps, by putting off/ Human, to put on gods."
Milton's Satan feels guilt and doubt before he tricks Eve, knowing the results of his actions will curse innocents. Similarly, Satan has feelings of guilt when he first enters Paradise. But his feelings always turn to hate once he reflects on his own exile from Heaven.
The role of Satan as a driving force in the poem has been the subject of much scholarly debate. Positions range from views of William Blake who stated Milton "wrote in fetters when wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, [because] he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it" to critic William H. Marshall's interpretation of the poem as a Christian morality tale.
Adam: Adam is the first human in Eden created by God. He is more intelligent than Eve and is also stronger, not only physically but morally. From the questions he asks the angel Raphael, it is clear that Adam has a deep, intellectual curiosity about his existence, God, Heaven, and the nature of the world. This is a kind of curiosity that Eve does not have.
As in the Bible, Eve is subservient to Adam, but in Milton's version of the story, Adam is rather easily manipulated by Eve's charms and good looks. Adam, in Milton's version of the character, is worshipful of Eve, partially because of her great beauty, and at times, is subservient to her wishes. His fall will result from this excessive and almost submissive love to his wife, namely his "uxoriousness". Hence, the power dynamic between Adam and Eve is more complicated than the one that is established in the Bible.
Adam also feels a noble sense of responsibility towards Eve (since she was, after all, created from his rib), and he fears for her safety, especially after hearing from the angel Raphael of Satan's infiltration of Paradise.
As opposed to the Biblical Adam, this version of Adam is given a glimpse of the future of mankind (this includes a synopsis of stories from The Old and New Testaments), by the angel Michael, before he has to leave Paradise.
Eve: Eve is the second human created, taken from one of Adam's ribs and shaped into a female form of Adam. In a positive sense (depending on your point of view), she is the model of a good subject and wife. She consents to Adam leading her away from her reflection when they first meet, trusting Adam’s authority in their relationship until she is influenced by Satan.
She is extremely beautiful, and her beauty not only obsesses Adam but also herself. After she is born, she gazes at her reflection in a pool of water, transfixed by her image. Even after Adam calls out to her, she returns to her image. It is not until God tells her to go to Adam that she consents to being led from the pool.
Eve first comes into contact with satanic influence in her dreams. After this incident she starts to develop the independent streak that perplexes Adam, particularly when she insists on going off by herself to work in the garden, even though Adam warns her against it.
Once she is alone, Satan tempts her to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He approaches her in the body of a snake and manipulates her by appealing to her pride and vanity.
Likewise, she soon gets Adam to eat from the tree as well, though he does this because he doesn't want to lose Eve. This creates a complexity that is not in the Biblical version of the story. In this version, Adam reasons that Eve will probably die soon from eating the fruit, so he eats the fruit because he would rather die with her than live alone.
Later, when they don't die and Adam realizes that their actions in the garden have cursed all of mankind, he is harsh on Eve, blaming her for their transgression. At this point, Eve gets on her knees and begs Adam for forgiveness. And since Adam still loves Eve, he forgives her, sharing some of the blame with her.
The Son of God: The Son of God in Paradise Lost is Jesus Christ, though he is never named explicitly, since he has not yet entered human form. The Son is very heroic and powerful, singlehandedly defeating Satan and his followers when they violently rebel against God and driving them into Hell. Also, after the Father explains to him how Adam and Eve shall fall, and how the rest of humanity will be doomed to follow them in their cursed footsteps, the Son selflessly and heroically proclaims that he will take the punishment for humanity. The Son endows hope to the poem, because although Satan conquers humanity by successfully tempting Adam and Eve, the victory is temporary because the Son will save the human race.
God the Father: God the Father is the creator of Eden, Heaven, Hell, and of each of the main characters. He is an all-powerful and all-knowing being who cannot be overthrown by even the one-third of the angels Satan incites against him. The poem portrays God’s process of creation in the way that Milton believed it was done, that God created Heaven, Earth, Hell, and all the creatures that inhabit these separate planes from part of himself, not out of nothing. Thus, according to Milton, the ultimate authority of God derives from his being the "author" of creation. Satan tries to justify his rebellion by denying this aspect of God and claiming self-creation, but he admits to himself this is not the case, and that God "deserved no such return/ From me, whom he created what I was."
Raphael: Raphael is an angel who is sent by God to warn Adam about Satan's infiltration of Eden and to warn him that Satan is going to try to curse Adam and Eve. Raphael initially meets with both Adam and Eve but has a private discussion about Satan with Adam only. During this discussion, Raphael tells Adam the story of Satan's rebellion and subsequent exile into Hell. After this, because of Adam's curiosity, Raphael also explains to Adam how God created the Earth and the universe.
Michael: After Adam and Eve disobey God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, God sends the angel Michael to visit Adam and Eve. His duty is to escort Adam and Eve out of Paradise. But before this happens, Michael shows Adam visions of the future which cover an outline of the Bible, from the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis, up through the story of Jesus in the New Testament. This vision is meant to show Adam what happens to mankind and to show Adam how Jesus will redeem humanity and eventually drive out Satan, Sin, and Death from the Earth.
Milton began writing the epic in 1658 at the age of fifty, during the last years of the English Republic. Infighting among different military and political factions that doomed the Republic may show up in the Council of Hell scenes in Book II. Although he probably finished the work by 1664, Milton did not publish until 1667, because of Great Plague and the Great Fire.
Milton composed the entire work while completely blind. It is presumed he had glaucoma, necessitating the use of paid amanuenses and his daughters. The poet claimed that a divine spirit inspired him during the night, leaving him with verses that he would recite in the morning.
The work is influenced by the Bible, Milton's own Puritan upbringing and religious perspective (including elements of Arminianism, Phineas Fletcher, Edmund Spenser, the Roman poets Virgil and Ovid , Greek poets Theocritus and Homer, Italian poet Dante Alighieri, and the traditions of epic poetry). It may also have been influenced by Lucifer, a play by Joost van den Vondel.
Later in life, Milton wrote the much shorter sequel to Paradise Lost entitled Paradise Regained, charting the temptation of Christ by Satan, and the return of the possibility of paradise. The reputation of the sequel never equaled its antecedent.
Milton first presents Adam and Eve in Book IV with impartiality. The relationship between Adam and Eve is one of "mutual dependence, not a relation of domination or hierarchy." While the author does place Adam above Eve in regard to his intellectual knowledge, and in turn his relation to God, he also grants Eve the benefit of knowledge through experience. Hermine Van Nuis clarifies that although there is a sense of stringency associated with the specified roles of the male and the female, each unreservedly accepts the designated role because it is viewed as an asset. Instead of believing that these roles are forced upon them, each uses the obligatory requirement as a strength in their relationship with each other. These minor discrepancies reveal the author’s view on the importance of mutuality between a husband and a wife.
When examining the relationship between Adam and Eve, critics tend to accept an either Adam-or Eve—centered view in terms of hierarchy and importance to God. David Mikics argues, by contrast, these positions "overstate the independence of the characters' stances, and therefore miss the way in which Adam and Eve are entwined with each other". Milton's true vision reflects one where the husband and wife (in this instance, Adam and Eve) depend on each other and only through each other’s differences are able to thrive. While most readers believe that Adam and Eve fail because of their fall from paradise, Milton would argue that the resulting strengthening of their love for one another is true victory.
Although Milton does not directly mention divorce, critics posit theories on Milton's view of divorce based on inferences found within the poem. Other works by Milton suggest he viewed marriage as an entity separate from the church. Discussing Paradise Lost, Biberman entertains the idea that "marriage is a contract made by both the man and the woman". Based on this inference, Milton would believe that both man and woman would have equal access to divorce, as they do to marriage.
Feminist critics of Paradise Lost suggest that Eve is forbidden the knowledge of her own identity. Moments after her creation, before Eve is led to Adam, she becomes enraptured by an image reflected in the water (her own, unbeknownst to Eve). God urges Eve to look away from her own image, her beauty, which is also the object of Adam’s desire. Adam delights in both her beauty and submissive charms, yet Eve may never be permitted to gaze upon her individual form. Critic Julia M. Walker argues that because Eve “neither recognizes nor names herself…she can know herself only in relation to Adam.” “Eve’s sense of self becomes important in its absence…[she] is never allowed to know what she is supposed to see.” Eve therefore knows not what she is, only what she is not: male. Starting in Book IV, Eve learns that Adam, the male form, is superior and “How beauty is excelled by manly grace/ And wisdom which alone is truly fair.” Led by his gentle hand, she yields, a woman without individual purpose, destined to fall by “free will.”
Milton's 17th century contemporaries by and large criticized Milton’s ideas and considered him as a radical, mostly because of his well-known Protestant views on politics and religion. One of Milton's greatest and most controversial arguments centers on his concept of what is idolatrous; this topic is deeply embedded in Paradise Lost.
Milton's first criticism of idolatry focuses on the practice of constructing temples and other buildings to serve as places of worship. In Book XI of Paradise Lost, Adam tries to atone for his sins by offering to build altars to worship God. In response, the angel Michael explains Adam does not need to build physical objects to experience the presence of God. Joseph Lyle points to this example, explaining "When Milton objects to architecture, it is not a quality inherent in buildings themselves he finds offensive, but rather their tendency to act as convenient loci to which idolatry, over time, will inevitably adhere." Even if the idea is pure in nature, Milton still believes that it will unavoidably lead to idolatry simply because of the nature of humans. Instead of placing their thoughts and beliefs into God, as they should, humans tend to turn to erected objects and falsely invest their faith. While Adam attempts to build an altar to God, critics note Eve is similarly guilty of idolatry, but in a different manner. Harding believes Eve's narcissism and obsession with herself constitutes idolatry. Specifically, Harding claims that "... under the serpent’s influence, Eve’s idolatry and self-deification foreshadow the errors into which her 'Sons' will stray." Much like Adam, Eve falsely places her faith into herself, the Tree of Knowledge, and to some extent, the Serpent, all of which do not compare to the ideal nature of God.
Furthermore, Milton makes his views on idolatry more explicit with the creation of Pandemonium and the exemplary allusion to Solomon’s temple. In the beginning of Paradise Lost, as well as throughout the poem, there are several references to the rise and eventual fall of Solomon's temple. Critics elucidate that "Solomon’s temple provides an explicit demonstration of how an artifact moves from its genesis in devotional practice to an idolatrous end." This example, out of the many presented, conveys Milton’s views on the dangers of idolatry distinctly. Even if one builds a structure in the name of God, even the best of intentions can become immoral. In addition, critics have drawn parallels between both Pandemonium and Saint Peter's Basilica, and the Pantheon. The majority of these similarities revolve around a structural likeness, but as Lyle explains, they play a greater role. By linking Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon to Pandemonium—an ideally false structure, the two famous buildings take on a false meaning. This comparison best represents Milton's Protestant views, as it rejects both the purely Catholic perspective and the Pagan perspective.
In addition to rejecting Catholicism, Milton revolted against the idea of a monarch ruling by divine right. He saw the practice as idolatrous. Barbara Lewalski concludes that the theme of idolatry in Paradise Lost ". . . is an exaggerated version of the idolatry Milton had long associated with the Stuart ideology of divine kingship". In the opinion of Milton, any object, human or non-human, that receives special attention befitting of God, is considered idolatrous.
This epic is generally considered one of the greatest works in the English language. In the verses below the portrait in the fourth edition, John Dryden linked Milton with Homer and Virgil, suggesting Milton encompassed and surpassed both:
"Three Poets, in three distant Ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn.
The First in loftiness of thought surpass'd;
The Next in Majesty; in both the Last.
The force of Nature cou'd no farther goe:
To make a third she joynd the former two."
Since Paradise Lost is based upon scripture, its significance in the Western canon has been thought by some to have lessened due to increasing secularism. This is not the general consensus, and even academics labelled as secular realize the merits of the work. In William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the "voice of the devil" argues:
This statement summarizes what would become the most common interpretation of the work in the twentieth century. Some critics, including C. S. Lewis, and later Stanley Fish, reject this interpretation. Rather, such critics hold that the theology of Paradise Lost conforms to the passages of Scripture on which it is based.
The latter half of the twentieth century saw critical understanding of Milton's epic shift to a more political and philosophical focus. Rather than the Romantic conception of the Devil as hero, it is generally accepted that Satan is presented in terms that begin classically heroic, then diminish him until he is finally reduced to a dust-eating serpent unable even to control his own body. The political angle enters into consideration in the underlying friction between Satan's conservative, hierarchical view of the universe, and the contrasting "new way" of God and the Son of God as illustrated in Book III. In other words, in contemporary criticism the main thrust of the work becomes not the perfidy or heroism of Satan, but rather the tension between classical conservative "Old Testament" hierarchs (evidenced in Satan's worldview and even in that of the archangels Raphael and Gabriel), and "New Testament" revolutionaries (embodied in the Son of God, Adam, and Eve) who represent a new system of universal organization. This new order is based not in tradition, precedence, and unthinking habit, but on sincere and conscious acceptance of faith and on station chosen by ability and responsibility. Naturally, this interpretation makes much use of Milton's other works and his biography, grounding itself in his personal history as an English revolutionary and social critic.
In Paul Stevens of University of Toronto's Milton's Satan, he claimed the Satan figure was one of the earliest examples of an anti-hero who does not submit to authority, but the actions are greatly based on his own arrogance and delusion. Stevens also claimed Paradise Lost was a story about Milton himself, who wrote in support of events that eventually led to English Civil War. That analysis was debuted in 2009 season of TVO's Best Lecturer series.
The first illustrations were to the fourth edition of 1688, with one engraving prefacing each book, of which up to eight of the twelve were by Sir John Baptist Medina, one by Bernard Lens II, and perhaps up to four (including Books I and XII, perhaps the most memorable) by another hand. The most notable illustrators of Paradise Lost are William Blake, Gustave Doré and Henry Fuseli (1799); however, the epic's illustrators also include, among others, John Martin, Edward Burney, Richard Westall, Francis Hayman. Salvador Dalí executed a set of ten colour engravings in 1974. As of June 2009, examples from this series can be viewed at the William Bennett Gallery in Manhattan. Strikingly, two capriccios by Gian Battista Tiepolo were used to illustrate an Italian 18th century edition. Surreal-visionary artist Terrance Lindall's rendition was published in 1982.
"Paradise Lost" has been the source of inspiration in several aspects of art and modern culture.
Damnation and a Day: From Genesis To Nemesis is the fifth studio album by Cradle of Filth. It features the 40-piece Budapest Film Orchestra and 32-piece Budapest Film Choir, is partly based on John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, and was Cradle's only full-length release for the major label Sony before they transferred to Roadrunner Records.
Paradise Lost (1667, 1674) is an epic poem by the 17th century English poet John Milton. The poem concerns the Christian story of the fall of Satan and his brethren and the rise of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
Note that chapter and line references correspond with the 1674 version of the text, available online here.
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