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"L'Allegro" by Thomas Cole

L'Allegro is a pastoral poem by John Milton published in 1645. L'Allegro (which means "the happy man" in Italian) is invariably paired with the contrasting pastoral poem, Il Penseroso ("the thoughtful man"), which depicts a similar day spent in contemplation and thought.



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 Mirth/Euphrosyne and her divine parentage:[3]

In Heav'n yclept Euphrosyne,
And by men, heart-easing Mirth,
Whom lovely Venus at a birth
With two sister Graces more
To ivy-crowned Bacchus bore (lines 13–16)

The narrator continues by requesting Mirth to appear with:[4]

Jest and youthful Jollity,
Quips and Cranks, and wanton Wiles,
Nods, and Becks, and wreathed Smiles,
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter holding both his sides. (lines 26–28, 31–32)

Later, the narrator describes how Mirth is connected to pastoral environments:[5]

Whilst the landscape round it measures,
Russet lawns, and fallows gray,
Where the nibbling flocks do stray
Meadows trim with daisies pied,
Shallow brooks, and rivers wide (lines 70–72, 75–76)

Near the end of the poem, the narrator requests from Mirth to be immersed in the poetry and the pleasures that Mirth is able to produce:[6]

And ever against eating cares,
Lap me in soft Lydian airs,
Married to immortal verse
Such as the meeting soul may pierce (lines 135–138)

The final lines of the poem is a response to questions found within Elizabethan poetry, including Christopher Marlowe's "Come live with me and be my love":[7]

These delights, if thou canst give,
Mirth with thee, I mean to live. (lines 151–152)


According to Barbara Lewalski, L'Allegro, along with Il Penseroso, "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".[7] In particular, L'Allegro celebrates Grace Euphrosone through the traditional Theocritan pastoral model. The poem is playful and is set within a pastoral scene that allows the main character to connect with folk stories and fairy tales in addition to various comedic plays and performances. There is a sort of progression from the pleasures found in L'Allegro with the pleasures found within Il Penseroso. Besides being set in a traditional form, there is no poetic antecedent for Milton's pairing.[8]

The poem invokes Mirth and other allegorical figures of joy and merriment, and extols the active and cheerful life, while depicting a day in the countryside according to this philosophy. Mirth, as one of the Graces, is connected with poetry within Renaissance literature,[9] and the poem, in its form and content, is similar to dithrambs to Bacchus or hymns to Venus. However, the pleasure that Mirth brings is moderated, and there is a delicate balance between the influence of Venus or Bacchus achieved by relying on their daughter.[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 L'Allegro and Il Penseroso 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.

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]

See also


  1. ^ Kerrigan 2007 p. 40
  2. ^ Revard 1997 pp. 1–2
  3. ^ a b Revard 1997 p. 96
  4. ^ Revard 1997 p. 101
  5. ^ Revard 1997 p. 102
  6. ^ Revard 1997 p. 99
  7. ^ a b Lewalski 2003 p. 5
  8. ^ Lewalski pp. 5–6
  9. ^ Revard 1997 p. 97
  10. ^ Revard 1997 p. 105
  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

by John Milton

HENCE, loathed Melancholy,
............Of Cerberus and blackest Midnight born
In Stygian cave forlorn
............'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights
Find out some uncouth cell,
............Where brooding Darkness spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-raven sings;
............There, under ebon shades and low-browed rocks,
As ragged as thy locks,
............In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.

But come, thou Goddess fair and free,
In heaven yclept Euphrosyne,
And by men heart-easing Mirth;
Whom lovely Venus, at a birth,
With two sister Graces more,
To ivy-crowned Bacchus bore:
Or whether (as some sager sing)
The frolic wind that breathes the spring,
Zephyr, with Aurora pIaying,
As he met her once a-Maying,
There, on beds of violets blue,
And fresh-blown roses washed in dew,
Filled her with thee,. a daughter fair,
So buxom, blithe, and debonair.
Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee
Jest, and youthful Jollity,
Quips and cranks and wanton wiles,
Nods and becks and wreathed smiles
Such as hang on Hebe's cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it, as you go,
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee
The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty;
And, if I give thee honour due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
To live with her, and live with thee,
In unreproved pleasures free:
To hear the lark begin his flight,
And, singing, startle the dull night,
From his watch-tower in the skies,
Till the dappled dawn doth rise;
Then to come, in spite of sorrow,
And at my window bid good-morrow,
Through the sweet-briar or the vine,
Or the twisted eglantine;
While the cock, with lively din,
Scatters the rear of darkness thin,
And to the stack, or the barn-door,
Stoutly struts his dames before:
Oft listening how the hounds and horn
Cheerly rouse the slumbering morn,
From the side of some hoar hill,
Through the high wood echoing shrill:
Sometime walking, not unseen,
By hedgerow elms, on hillocks green,
Right against the eastern gate
Where the great Sun begins his state,
Robed in flames and amber light,
The clouds in thousand liveries dight;
While the ploughman, near at hand,
Whistles o'er the furrowed land,
And the milkmaid singeth blithe,
And the mower whets his scythe,
And every shepherd tells his tale
Under the hawthorn in the dale.
Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures,
Whilst the landskip round it measures:
Russet lawns, and fallows grey,
Where the nibbling flocks do stray;
Mountains on whose barren breast
The labouring clouds do often rest;
Meadows trim, with daisies pied;
Shallow brooks, and rivers wide;
Towers and battlements it sees
Bosomed high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies,
The cynosure of neighbouring eyes.
Hard by a cottage chimney smokes
From betwixt two aged oaks,
Where Corydon and Thyrsis met
Are at their savoury dinner set
Of herbs and other country messes,
Which the neat-handed Phyllis dresses;
And then in haste her bower she leaves,
With Thestylis to bind the sheaves;
Or, if the earlier season lead,
To the tanned haycock in the mead.
Sometimes, with secure delight,
The upland hamlets will invite,
When the merry bells ring round,
And the jocund rebecks sound
To many a youth and many a maid
Dancing in the chequered shade,
And young and old come forth to play
On a sunshine holiday,
Till the livelong daylight fail:
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale,
With stories told of many a feat,
How Faery Mab the junkets eat.
She was pinched and pulled, she said;
And he, by Friar's lantern led,
Tells how the drudging goblin sweat
To earn his cream-bowl duly set,
When in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
His shadowy flail hath threshed the corn
That ten day-labourers could not end;
Then lies him down, the lubber fiend,
And, stretched out all the chimney's length,
Basks at the fire his hairy strength,
And crop-full out of doors he flings,
Ere the first cock his matin rings.
Thus done the tales, to bed they creep,
By whispering winds soon lulled asleep.
Towered cities please us then,
And the busy hum of men,
Where throngs of knights and barons bold,
In weeds of peace, high triumphs hold
With store of ladies, whose bright eyes
Rain influence, and judge the prize
Of wit or arms, while both contend
To win her grace whom all commend.
There let Hymen oft appear
In saffron robe, with taper clear,
And pomp, and feast, and revelry,
With mask and antique pageantry;
Such sights as youthful poets dream
On summer eves by haunted stream.
Then to the well-trod stage anon,
If Jonson's learned sock be on,
Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
Warble his native wood-notes wild.
And ever, against eating cares,
Lap me in soft Lydian airs,
Married to immortal verse,
Such as the meeting soul may pierce,
In notes with many a winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out
With wanton heed and giddy cunning,
The melting voice through mazes running,
Untwisting all the chains that tie
The hidden soul of harmony;
That Orpheus' self may heave his head
From golden slumber on a bed
Of heaped Elysian flowers, and hear
Such strains as would have won the ear
Of Pluto to have quite set free
His half-regained Eurydice.
These delights if thou canst give,
Mirth, with thee I mean to live.


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