L'Allegro

Original Text: 
John Milton, Poems (1645); facs. edn. (Menston: Scolar Press, 1970). PR 3552 S4 1645a Trinity College Library
4    'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy;
6    Where brooding Darkness spreads his jealous wings,
7And the night-raven sings;
8    There under ebon shades, and low-brow'd rocks,
9As ragged as thy locks,
11But come thou goddess fair and free,
12In heav'n yclep'd Euphrosyne,
13And by men, heart-easing Mirth,
15With two sister Graces more
16To Ivy-crowned Bacchus bore;
17Or whether (as some sager sing)
18The frolic wind that breathes the spring,
19Zephyr, with Aurora playing,
20As he met her once a-Maying,
21There on beds of violets blue,
22And fresh-blown roses wash'd in dew,
23Fill'd her with thee, a daughter fair,
25Haste thee nymph, and bring with thee
26Jest and youthful Jollity,
28Nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles,
30And love to live in dimple sleek;
31Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
32And Laughter holding both his sides.
33Come, and trip it as ye go
34On the light fantastic toe,
35And in thy right hand lead with thee,
36The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty;
37And if I give thee honour due,
38Mirth, admit me of thy crew
39To live with her, and live with thee,
41To hear the lark begin his flight,
42And singing startle the dull night,
43From his watch-tower in the skies,
44Till the dappled dawn doth rise;
46And at my window bid good-morrow,
47Through the sweet-briar, or the vine,
49While the cock with lively din,
50Scatters the rear of darkness thin,
51And to the stack, or the barn door,
52Stoutly struts his dames before;
53Oft list'ning how the hounds and horn
54Cheerly rouse the slumb'ring morn,
55From the side of some hoar hill,
56Through the high wood echoing shrill.
57Sometime walking, not unseen,
58By hedge-row elms, on hillocks green,
59Right against the eastern gate,
61Rob'd in flames, and amber light,
63While the ploughman near at hand,
64Whistles o'er the furrow'd land,
65And the milkmaid singeth blithe,
66And the mower whets his scythe,
68Under the hawthorn in the dale.
69Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures
70Whilst the landskip round it measures,
71Russet lawns, and fallows gray,
72Where the nibbling flocks do stray;
73Mountains on whose barren breast
74The labouring clouds do often rest;
75Meadows trim with daisies pied,
76Shallow brooks, and rivers wide.
77Towers, and battlements it sees
78Bosom'd high in tufted trees,
81Hard by, a cottage chimney smokes,
82From betwixt two aged oaks,
83Where Corydon and Thyrsis met,
84Are at their savoury dinner set
85Of herbs, and other country messes,
86Which the neat-handed Phyllis dresses;
87And then in haste her bow'r she leaves,
88With Thestylis to bind the sheaves;
89Or if the earlier season lead
90To the tann'd haycock in the mead.
92The upland hamlets will invite,
93When the merry bells ring round,
95To many a youth, and many a maid,
96Dancing in the chequer'd shade;
97And young and old come forth to play
98On a sunshine holiday,
99Till the live-long daylight fail;
100Then to the spicy nut-brown ale,
101With stories told of many a feat,
103She was pinch'd and pull'd she said,
106To earn his cream-bowl duly set,
107When in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
108His shadowy flail hath thresh'd the corn
109That ten day-labourers could not end;
111And stretch'd out all the chimney's length,
112Basks at the fire his hairy strength;
113And crop-full out of doors he flings,
114Ere the first cock his matin rings.
115Thus done the tales, to bed they creep,
116By whispering winds soon lull'd asleep.
117Tower'd cities please us then,
118And the busy hum of men,
119Where throngs of knights and barons bold,
120In weeds of peace high triumphs hold,
121With store of ladies, whose bright eyes
122Rain influence, and judge the prize
123Of wit, or arms, while both contend
124To win her grace, whom all commend.
126In saffron robe, with taper clear,
127And pomp, and feast, and revelry,
128With mask, and antique pageantry;
129Such sights as youthful poets dream
130On summer eves by haunted stream.
131Then to the well-trod stage anon,
133Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
137Married to immortal verse,
138Such as the meeting soul may pierce
140Of linked sweetness long drawn out,
141With wanton heed, and giddy cunning,
142The melting voice through mazes running,
143Untwisting all the chains that tie
144The hidden soul of harmony;
146From golden slumber on a bed
147Of heap'd Elysian flow'rs, and hear
148Such strains as would have won the ear
149Of Pluto, to have quite set free
150His half-regain'd Eurydice.
152Mirth, with thee I mean to live.

Notes

1] First published in Poems, 1645. This and the companion piece Il Penseroso, though usually attributed to the period of Milton's retirement at Horton after 1632, were more probably written during the summer of 1631. The titles mean respectively "The Cheerful Man" and "The Thoughtful Man". In metre and conception the two poems are to some extent indebted to the verses prefixed to Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621, of which the first two stanzas are as follows:
When I go musing all alone,
Thinking of divers things foreknown,
When I build castles in the air,
Void of sorrow and void of fear;
Pleasing myself with phantoms sweet,
Methinks the time runs very fleet.
    All my joys to this are folly;
    Naught so sweet as melancholy.

When I lie waking all alone,
Recounting what I ill have done,
My thoughts on me do tyrannize,
Fear and sorrow me surprise;
Whether I tarry still or go,
Methinks the time moves very slow.
    All my griefs to this are jolly;
    Naught so sad as melancholy.

Back to Line
2] Cerberus. The three-headed dog that guarded the gates of hell. Back to Line
3] Stygian. Pertaining to the Styx, one of the four rivers of Hades. Back to Line
5] uncouth. Unknown, hidden. Back to Line
10] Cimmerian. The Cimmerii dwelt in a land enveloped in darkness (Odyssey, XII, 14). Back to Line
14] Masson explains: "Cheerfulness may spring from wine and love; or, preferably, and by an airier and purer origin, she is produced by the early freshness of the summer morning." Back to Line
24] buxom. Lively (literally "pliant").
debonair. Courteous, amiable. Back to Line
27] quips. Retorts.
cranks. Odd turns of speech. Back to Line
29] Hebe. Cup-bearer to the gods and personification of eternal youth. Back to Line
40] unreproved. Unreprovable. Back to Line
45] Milton probably had in mind the following couplet, from Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas:
But cheerfull Birds, chirping him sweet good-morrows,
With Nature's Musick do beguile his sorrows.
and in that case must be referring to the lark coming to his window, though this is not in accordance with the habits of the English lark. Back to Line
48] eglantine. Either honey-stickle or sweet-briar. Back to Line
60] state. Ceremonial appearance. Back to Line
62] dight. Arrayed. Back to Line
67] tells his tale. Relates his story. The telling of tales by each shepherd in turn is often referred to by pastoral writers; e.g., William Browne, Shepherd's Pipe, V, 44-46. Back to Line
79] lies. Resides. Back to Line
80] cynosure. Object of absorbing attention, originally the name of the Lesser Bear, the constellation the Phoenicians used to sail by. Back to Line
91] secure. Carefree. Back to Line
94] rebecks. Fiddles. Back to Line
102] Mab. Queen of the Fairies; cf. Romeo and Juliet, I, iv, 54-95, and Ben Jonson's The Satyr (1616):
This is Mab, the mistress fairy, That doth nightly rob the dairy .... She that pinches country wenches If they rub not clean their benches.
Back to Line
104] friar's lanthorn. Either "Will o' the wisp" or Robin Goodfellow, the "drudging goblin" referred to below. Back to Line
105] Cf. Midsummer Night's Dream, II, i, 32-41. Back to Line
110] lubber fiend. Clumsy fairy. Back to Line
125] Cf. the stage direction for Ben Jonson's Masque of Hymen (presented at the court of James I): "on the other hand entered Hymen, in a saffron-coloured robe, his under-vestures white, his socks yellow, a yellow veil of silk on his left arm, his head crowned with roses and marjoram, in his right hand a torch of pine-tree". Back to Line
132] sock. The low-heeled shoe worn by comic actors, hence a symbol of comedy. Back to Line
134] Cf. Milton's Epitaph on Shakespeare: "Whiles to the shame of slow-endeavouring art Thy easy numbers flow." Back to Line
135] eating cares. A literal translation of curas edaces in Horace, Odes, II, viii, 18. Back to Line
136] Lydian airs. In Greek music the Lydian mood was considered especially tender and voluptuous. Back to Line
139] bout. Passage. Back to Line
145] Orpheus by his music induced Pluto, god of Hades, to restore his wife, Eurydice, on condition that he should not look back at her on his journey to earth. He disobeyed and lost her. Cf. Il Penseroso, 105-109. Back to Line
151] Cf. Marlowe, Passionate Shepherd:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1645
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.357; RPO 1996-2000.