The Pilgrim's Progress By John Bunyan Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 10 - Beulah Land, Dark River, and Celestial City

Summary

Leaving the Enchanted Ground and terminating their discourse, the Pilgrims enter "a delightful land, the country of Beulah" (Isa. 62:4; Song of Sol. 2:10-12). Here the sun "shineth night and day," the air is sweet and pleasant, flowers bloom everywhere, birds sing continually, and "the voice of the turtle is heard in the land." Beulab lies within sight of the Celestial City, "builded of pearls and precious stones . . . and pure gold." The reflection of the sun on it is so bright as to be blinding.

Passing orchards, vineyards, and gardens, the Pilgrims meet the Gardener, who tells them that the Lord himself comes down from the city now and again to enjoy a bit of rural peace and beauty, and to rest in one of the arbors. Christian and Hopeful are soon joined by two men dressed in golden raiment and whose faces shine "as the light." Accompanied by these angels, they suddenly come to Dark River, broad and swift. There is no bridge over it, no boat to carry them across, and they are "very much astounded," asking their companions what they should do.

"You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate." Is the water all of a depth? No, they are told, "you shall find it deeper or shallower, as you believe in the King of the place." Crossing the River of Death is a test of Faith. Apprehensively, the Pilgrims wade in and presently Christian cries out: "I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head; all his waves go over me. Selah . . . I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey."

"Be of good cheer," Hopeful calls out, saying that he has found good footing and will help him. But Christian goes down in "a great darkness and horror" as he recalls all his sins "both since and before he began to be a Pilgrim." Somewhat losing his senses, he begins to see hobgoblins and evil spirits. Hopeful has all he can do "to keep his brother's head above water. Yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then ere a while he would rise up again, half dead." This goes on until Hopeful persuades him that he is not lost, that his faith in Christ will save him, which it does.

Reaching the far bank of the river, the wet and weary Pilgrims find Shining Ones waiting for them. The ascent to the Celestial City is steep, for it stands "on a mighty hill . . . higher than the clouds." But the ascent for them is easy because the Shining Ones, taking them by the arms, help them up and because "they had left their mortal garments behind them in the river." As they are climbing, a company of the Heavenly Host comes out to greet them, as well as several of the King's trumpeters, who make the Heavens ring "with melodious noises and loud."

Over the Celestial Gate is written in letters of gold: "Blessed are they that do his Commandments, that they may have right to the Tree of Life and may enter in through the gate into the city." From the parapet above the gate, some notables are looking down — "Enoch, Moses, and Elijah, &c." They direct the Pilgrims to hand in their certificates, which are carried forthwith to the "King of the place" (God). Satisfied after examining their credentials, the Lord orders the gate to be opened so that they "that keepeth Truth may enter in."

With bells pealing joyously, Christian and Hopeful walk into the city and are "transfigured." They are clothed in new raiment that shines like gold. Each is given a golden harp and a gold crown, and they are soon marching along the gold-paved streets with many of the Heavenly Host, some of whom have wings. All are playing their harps and, "without intermission," singing in chorus: "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord" — which is the last seen of Christian and Hopeful in the Paradise they have been seeking.

Not long after the gate was closed behind them, another Pilgram approaches and knocks. It is Ignorance, who has been plodding along behind since Christian and Hopeful walked off and left him. When the keepers of the gate ask him for his certificate, Ignorance fumbles "in his bosom" as if he had a paper and could not find it. When pressed about this, he does not answer. On being informed of this, the King orders several of the Shining Ones to seize Ignorance, bind him hand and foot, carry him to the door to Hell just outside the Celestial City, and throw him through it. On that note the bookends, with the author remarking: "So I awoke, and behold it was a dream."

Bunyan appended to his book four stanzas of rather doggerel verse, of which some lines are these:

Now, reader, I have told my dream to thee.
See if thou canst interpret it to me,
Or to thyself, or neighbor . . .

Take heed, also that thou be not extreme
In playing with the outside of my dream.

Nor let my figure, or similitude,
Put thee into laughter or a feud.
Leave this for boys and fools; but as for thee,
Do thou the substance of the matter see . . .

What of my dross thou findest there, be bold
To throw away, but yet preserve the gold . . .But if thou shalt cast all away as vain,
I know not but 'twill make me dream again.

Analysis

Some of the symbolism and the specific imagery in the Beulab Land episode is distinctly Freudian. Beulab means "married," and among the other beauties and delights of the land, it is here, so Bunyan tells us, that the "contract between the bride and bridegroom was renewed. Yea, here, as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so did their God rejoice over them" (Isa. 62:5). Christian is so ravished by the idea that he almost swoons "with desire"; Hopeful has "a fit or two of the same disease." Being quite overcome, they lie down for a while, crying out in ecstasy and longing: "If you see my Beloved, tell him that I am sick of love" (Song of Sol. 5-8).

The happenings at the crossing of the Dark River come as something of a surprise. As safe passage depends on Faith, one would expect that Christian would get across much more easily than Hopeful, who is still something of a novice saint. But it is the other way around. Bunyan wishes to immerse Christian in all his paralyzing doubts again to make his hero's ultimate triumph all the greater. It is Hopeful with his helping hand and reassuring words who keeps Christian afloat in the River of Death till the latter overcomes his misgivings about salvation, glimpses his Redeemer once again, and thereupon walks safely ashore through shallow water.

As the gate swings open to admit Christian and Hopeful to the Celestial City, one is rather surprised and disappointed that Bunyan offers only the briefest glimpse into his solid-gold, jewel-encrusted Heaven. One expects to be shown something more interesting and inspiring than bands of angels with gold crowns walking up and down gold-paved streets playing gold harps and incessantly singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy." Later, in Part II, Bunyan comes back to the subject and tells us a bit more about what life is like on Mount Zion and how well Christian is faring there.

One is surprised also at the way Bunyan concludes his book. One would think it natural and logical for him to end the story with the triumph of Christian and Hopeful in finally attaining their goal and being admitted into the Celestial City to enjoy the beatitudes of eternal life there. Instead, he tacks on a paragraph relating how Ignorance, having made it all the way to the Celestial City, is repulsed there, seized by order of God, and tossed through a door into Hell. This scene obviously pleased Bunyan and afforded him great satisfaction. Otherwise, he would not have used it as the final point in his book.

But a reader with a sense of fair play may not be so pleased. His sympathy is apt to lie with Ignorance. His sudden consignment to Hell seems to be quite arbitrary and heartless. However "ignorant" and erroneous his religious views might appear to Christian and Hopeful, his credentials as a persevering Pilgrim could not be challenged. Over many obstacles, he had plodded along as far as the Pearly Gates. Instead of being turned away there for not having a proper passport, a certificate, such as Bunyan had provided for Christian and Hopeful, it would have been only fair, it seems, that he should have been commended and comforted a bit, and told to apply again when he had corrected his ideological errors. That he should be cast into Hell, in addition, certainly appears to be cruel and unusual punishment for one who only wanted to be an angel.

The verses appended to the narrative are rather touching. Bunyan is afraid that readers may fail to unravel his riddles, that his story may provoke "laughter or a feud." Whatever dross may be found in the tale, the reader should cast away, "but yet preserve the gold."

But if thou shall cast all away as vain,
I know not but 'twill make me dream again.

Bunyan did "dream" again, not because his book was cast away, but rather because it quickly became so popular in Puritan circles — in particular, among humble people in town and country-that readers were eager for a sequel.

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