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Il Penseroso by Thomas Cole.

Il Penseroso is a pastoral poem by John Milton published in 1645. Invoking "divinest Melancholy", the poem is in praise of the contemplative, withdrawn life of study, philosophy, thought and meditation, and is a counterpiece to L'Allegro, which praises the more cheerful sides of life and literature. Both pieces detail the passing of a day in the countryside according to both philosophies. Because of Milton's later reputation as a fearsomely learned and dour poet, readers often detect a greater autobiographical element in Il Penseroso.



It is uncertain when L'Allegro and Il Pensero were composed because they do not appear in Milton's Trinity College manuscript of poetry. However, the settings found in the poem suggest that they were possibly composed shortly after Milton left Cambridge.[1] The two poems were first published in Milton's 1645 collection of poems. In the collection, they served as a balance to each other and to his Latin poems, including "Elegia 1" and "Elegia 6".[2]


Milton follows the traditional classical hymn model when the narrator invokes Melancholy and her divine parentage:[3]

Hail divinest Melancholy,
Whose saintly visage is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight;
Thee bright-haired Vesta long of yore,
To solitary Saturn bore;
His daughter she (in Saturn's reign,
Such mixture was not held a stain); (lines 12–14, 23–26)

The narrator describes Melancholy, connecting her with knowledge and the divine:[4]

Come pensive nun, devout and pure,
Sober, steadfast, and demure,
With even step, and musing gait,
And looks commercing with the skies,
They rapt soul sitting in thine eye:
There held in holy passion still (lines 31–32, 38–41)

By listening to Melancholy, the narrator is able to attain an understanding of the heavens:[5]

Or let my lamp at midnight hour,
Be seen in some high lonely tow'r,
Where I may oft outwatch the Bear,
With thrice-great Hermes, or unsphere
The spirit of Plato to unfold
What worlds, or what vast regions hold
The immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook (lines 85–92)

Near the end of the poem, Melancholy is able to connect the narrator with the dead poets, Musaeus and Orpheus, who were both children of Muses:[5]

But, O sad virgin, that they power
Might raise Musaeus from his bower,
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing
Such notes as warbled to the string,
Drew iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
And made Hell grant what love did seek (lines 103–108)

Il Penseroso distinguishes itself from L'Allegro when it discusses the future:[6]

And may at last my weary age
Find out the peaceful hermitage,
The hairy gown and mossy cell,
Where I may sit and rightly spell
Of every star that heaven doth shew,
And every herb that sips the dew;
Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain. (lines 167–174)

The final lines of the poem, just as in L'Allegro, is a response to questions found within Elizabethan poetry, including Christopher Marlowe's "Come live with me and be my love":[6]

These pleasures Melancholy give,
And I with thee will choose to live (lines 175–176)


According to Barbara Lewalski, Il Penseroso, along with L'Allegro, "explore and contrast in generic terms the ideal pleasures appropriate to contrasting lifestyles... that a poet might choose, or might choose at different times, or in sequence".[6] In particular, Il Penseroso celebrates Melancholy through the traditional Theocritan pastoral model. The setting focuses on a Gothic scene and emphasizes a solitary scholarly life. The main character wanders through an urban environment and the descriptions are reminiscent of medieval settings. The main character, in his pursuits, devotes his time to philosophy, to allegory, to tragedy, to Classical hymns, and, finally, to Christian hymns that cause him to be filled with a vision. Besides being set in a traditional form, there is no poetic antecedent for Milton's pairing.[7]

Melancholy, in Il Penseroso does not have the same parentage as Mirth does in L'Allegro; Melancholy comes from Saturn and Vesta, who are connected to science and a focus on the heavens.[8] Melancholy is connected in the poem with the "heavenly" muse Urania, the goddess of inspiring epics, through her focus and through her relationship with Saturn.[9] Furthermore, she is related to prophecy, and the prophetic account within the final lines of Il Penseroso does not suggest that isolation is ideal, but they do emphasize the importance of experience and an understanding of nature. The higher life found within the poem, as opposed to the one within L'Allegro, allows an individual to experience such a vision.[10]

The poems have been classified in various traditions and genres by various scholars, including: as academic writing by E. M. W. Tillyard[11]; as pastoral by Sara Watson;[12]; as part of classical philosophy by Maren-Sofie Rostvig;[13] as part of Renaissance encomia by S. P. Woodhouse and Douglas Bush,[14] and as similar to Homeric hymns and Pindaric odes.[15] Stelle Revard believes that the poems follow the classical hymn model which discuss goddess that are connected to poetry and uses these females to replace Apollo completely.[3]

Critical reception

During the eighteenth century, both Il Penseroso and L'Allegro were popular and were widely imitated by poets.[16] The poet and engraver William Blake, who was deeply influenced by Milton's poetry and personality, made illustrations to both L'Allegro and Il Penseroso.

Stella Revard believes that Milton, in his first publication of poems, "takes care to showcase himself as a poet in these first and last selections and at the same time to build his poetic reputation along the way by skillful positioning of poems such as 'L'Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso.'"[17]


  1. ^ Kerrigan 2007 p. 40
  2. ^ Revard 1997 pp. 1–2
  3. ^ a b Revard 1997 p. 96
  4. ^ Revard 1997 p. 110
  5. ^ a b Revard 1997 p. 113
  6. ^ a b c Lewalski 2003 p. 5
  7. ^ Lewalski pp. 5–6
  8. ^ Revard 1997 pp. 110–111
  9. ^ Revard 1997 p. 97
  10. ^ Lewalski 2003 p. 7
  11. ^ Tillyard 1938 pp. 14–21
  12. ^ Watson 1942 pp. 404–420
  13. ^ Rostvig 1962
  14. ^ Woodhouse and Bush 1972 pp. 227–269
  15. ^ Osgood 1900 pp. liv, 39
  16. ^ Havens 1961 pp. 236–275
  17. ^ Revard 1997 p. 1


  • Havens, Raymond. The Influence of Milton on English Poetry. New York: Russell & Russell, 1961.
  • Kerrigan, William; Rumrich, John; and Fallon, Stephen (eds.) The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton. New York: The Modern Library, 2007.
  • Lewalski, Barbara. "Genre" in A Companion to Milton. Ed. Thomas Corns. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
  • Osgood, Charles. The Classical Mythology of Milton's English Poems. New York: Holt, 1900.
  • Revard, Stella. Milton and the Tangles of Neaera's Hair. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.
  • Rostvig, Maren-Sofie. The Happy Man: Studies in the Metamorphosis of a Classical Idea, 1600–1700. Oslo: Oslo University Press, 1962.
  • Tillyard, E. M. W. "Milton: 'L'Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso in The Miltonic Setting, Past and Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938.
  • Watson, Sara. "Milton's Ideal Day: Its Development as a Pastoral Theme". PMLA 57 (1942): 404–420.
  • Woodhouse, A. S. P. and Bush, Douglas. Variorum: The Minor English Poems Vol 2. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.

External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Il Penseroso
by John Milton
Il Penseroso is a pastoral poem by John Milton published in 1645. Invoking "divinest Melancholy", the poem is in praise of the contemplative, withdrawn life of study, philosophy, thought and meditation, and is a counterpiece to L'Allegro, which praises the more cheerful sides of life and literature.
Excerpted from Il Penseroso on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Hence vain deluding joyes,
The brood of folly without father bred,
How little you bested,
Or fill the fixed mind with all your toyes;
Dwell in som idle brain,
And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
As thick and numberless
As the gay motes that people the Sun Beams,
Or likest hovering dreams
The fickle Pensioners of Morpheus train.

But hail thou Goddes, sage and holy,
Hail divinest Melancholy,
Whose Saintly visage is too bright
To hit the Sense of human sight;
And therfore to our weaker view,
Ore laid with black staid Wisdoms hue.
Black, but such as in esteem,
Prince Memnons sister might beseem,
Or that Starr'd Ethiope Queen that strove
To set her beauties praise above
The Sea Nymphs, and their powers offended.
Yet thou art higher far descended,
Thee bright- hair'd Vesta long of yore,
To solitary Saturn bore;
His daughter she (in Saturns raign,
Such mixture was not held a stain).
Oft in glimmering Bowres, and glades
He met her, and in secret shades
Of woody Ida's inmost grove,
While yet there was no fear of Jove.
Com pensive Nun, devout and pure,
Sober, stedfast, and demure,
All in a robe of darkest grain,
Flowing with majestick train,
And sable stole of Cipres Lawn,
Over thy decent shoulders drawn.
Com, but keep thy wonted state,
With eev'n step, and musing gate,
And looks commercing with the skies,
Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes:
There held in holy passion still,
Forget thy self to Marble, till
With a sad Leaden downward cast,
Thou fix them on the earth as fast.
And joyn with thee calm Peace, and Quiet,
Spare Fast, that oft with gods doth diet,
And hears the Muses in a ring,
Ay round about Joves Altar sing.
And adde to these retired leasure,
That in trim Gardens takes his pleasure;
But first, and chiefest, with thee bring,
Him that yon soars on golden wing,
Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,
The Cherub Contemplation,
And the mute Silence hist along,
'Less Philomel will daign a Song,
In her sweetest, saddest plight,
Smoothing the rugged brow of night,
While Cynthia checks her Dragon yoke,
Gently o're th' accustom'd Oke;
Sweet Bird that shunn'st the noise of folly,
Most musicall, most melancholy!
Thee Chauntress oft the Woods among,
I woo to hear thy eeven-Song;
And missing thee, I walk unseen
On the dry smooth-shaven Green,
To behold the wandring Moon,
Riding neer her highest noon,
Like one that had bin led astray
Through the Heav'ns wide pathles way;
And oft, as if her head she bow'd,
Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
Oft on a Plat of rising ground,
I hear the far-off Curfeu sound,
Over som wide-water'd shoar,
Swinging slow with sullen roar;
Or if the Ayr will not permit,
Som still removed place will fit,
Where glowing Embers through the room
Teach light to counterfeit a gloom,
Far from all resort of mirth,
Save the Cricket on the hearth,
Or the Belmans drousie charm,
To bless the dores from nightly harm:
Or let my Lamp at midnight hour,
Be seen in som high lonely Towr,
Where I may oft out-watch the Bear,
With thrice great Hermes, or unsphear
The spirit of Plato to unfold
What Worlds, or what vast Regions hold
The immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook:
And of those Dæmons that are found
In fire, air, flood, or under ground,
Whose power hath a true consent
With Planet, or with Element.
Som time let Gorgeous Tragedy
In Scepter'd Pall com sweeping by,
Presenting Thebs, or Pelops line,
Or the tale of Troy divine.
Or what (though rare) of later age,
Ennobled hath the Buskind stage.
But, O sad Virgin, that thy power
Might raise Musæus from his bower,
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing
Such notes as warbled to the string,
Drew Iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
And made Hell grant what Love did seek.
Or call up him that left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold,
Of Camball, and of Algarsife,
And who had Canace to wife,
That own'd the vertuous Ring and Glass,
And of the wondrous Hors of Brass,
On which the Tartar King did ride;
And if ought els, great Bards beside,
In sage and solemn tunes have sung,
Of Turneys and of Trophies hung;
Of Forests, and inchantments drear,
Where more is meant then meets the ear.
Thus night oft see me in thy pale career,
Till civil-suited Morn appeer,
Not trickt and frounc't as she was wont,
With the Attick Boy to hunt,
But Cherchef't in a comly Cloud,
While rocking Winds are Piping loud,
Or usher'd with a shower still,
When the gust hath blown his fill,
Ending on the russling Leaves,
With minute drops from off the Eaves.
And when the Sun begins to fling
His flaring beams, me Goddes bring
To arched walks of twilight groves,
And shadows brown that Sylvan loves
Of Pine, or monumental Oake,
Where the rude Ax with heaved stroke,
Was never heard the Nymphs to daunt,
Or fright them from their hallow'd haunt.
There in close covert by som Brook,
Where no profaner eye may look,
Hide me from Day's garish eie,
While the Bee with Honied thie,
That at her flowry work doth sing,
And the Waters murmuring
With such consort as they keep,
Entice the dewy-feather'd Sleep;
And let som strange mysterious dream,
Wave at his Wings in Airy stream,
Of lively portrature display'd,
Softly on my eye-lids laid.
And as I wake, sweet musick breath
Above, about, or underneath,
Sent by som spirit to mortals good,
Or th' unseen Genius of the Wood.
But let my due feet never fail,
To walk the studious Cloysters pale,
And love the high embowed Roof,
With antick Pillars massy proof,
And storied Windows richly dight,
Casting a dimm religious light.
There let the pealing Organ blow,
To the full voic'd Quire below,
In Service high, and Anthems cleer,
As may with sweetnes, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into extasies,
And bring all Heav'n before mine eyes.
And may at last my weary age
Find out the peacefull hermitage,
The Hairy Gown and Mossy Cell,
Where I may sit and rightly spell,
Of every Star that Heav'n doth shew,
And every Herb that sips the dew;
Till old experience do attain
To somthing like Prophetic strain.
These pleasures Melancholy give,
And I with thee will choose to live.


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