Il Penseroso

Original Text: 
John Milton, Poems (1645); facs. edn. (Menston: Scolar Press, 1970). PR 3552 S4 1645a Trinity College Library
1Hence vain deluding Joys,
2    The brood of Folly without father bred,
4    Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys;
5Dwell in some idle brain,
7As thick and numberless
8    As the gay motes that people the sunbeams,
9Or likest hovering dreams,
11But hail thou goddess, sage and holy,
12Hail divinest Melancholy,
13Whose saintly visage is too bright
14To hit the sense of human sight;
15And therefore to our weaker view,
16O'er-laid with black, staid Wisdom's hue;
17Black, but such as in esteem,
20To set her beauty's praise above
21The sea nymphs, and their powers offended.
22Yet thou art higher far descended,
24To solitary Saturn bore;
25His daughter she (in Saturn's reign,
26Such mixture was not held a stain)
27Oft in glimmering bow'rs and glades
28He met her, and in secret shades
30While yet there was no fear of Jove.
31Come pensive nun, devout and pure,
32Sober, stedfast, and demure,
34Flowing with majestic train,
37Come, but keep thy wonted state,
38With ev'n step, and musing gait,
39And looks commercing with the skies,
40Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes:
41There held in holy passion still,
44Thou fix them on the earth as fast.
45And join with thee calm Peace, and Quiet,
46Spare Fast, that oft with gods doth diet,
47And hears the Muses in a ring,
48Aye round about Jove's altar sing.
49And add to these retired Leisure,
50That in trim gardens takes his pleasure;
51But first, and chiefest, with thee bring
52Him that yon soars on golden wing,
57In her sweetest, saddest plight,
58Smoothing the rugged brow of night,
60Gently o'er th' accustom'd oak.
61Sweet bird that shunn'st the noise of folly,
62Most musical, most melancholy!
63Thee, chauntress, oft the woods among,
64I woo to hear thy even-song;
66On the dry smooth-shaven green,
68Riding near her highest noon,
69Like one that had been led astray
70Through the heav'ns wide pathless way;
71And oft, as if her head she bow'd,
72Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
73Oft on a plat of rising ground,
74I hear the far-off curfew sound,
75Over some wide-water'd shore,
76Swinging slow with sullen roar;
77Or if the air will not permit,
78Some still removed place will fit,
79Where glowing embers through the room
80Teach light to counterfeit a gloom,
81Far from all resort of mirth,
82Save the cricket on the hearth,
84To bless the doors from nightly harm.
85Or let my lamp at midnight hour,
86Be seen in some high lonely tow'r,
90What worlds, or what vast regions hold
91The immortal mind that hath forsook
92Her mansion in this fleshly nook:
94In fire, air, flood, or under ground,
96With planet, or with element.
97Sometime let gorgeous Tragedy
100Or the tale of Troy divine,
101Or what (though rare) of later age,
103But, O sad Virgin, that thy power
106Such notes as, warbled to the string,
107Drew iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
108And made Hell grant what love did seek.
110The story of Cambuscan bold,
111Of Camball, and of Algarsife,
112And who had Canace to wife,
114And of the wond'rous horse of brass,
115On which the Tartar king did ride;
117In sage and solemn tunes have sung,
118Of tourneys and of trophies hung,
119Of forests, and enchantments drear,
120Where more is meant than meets the ear.
121Thus, Night, oft see me in thy pale career,
122Till civil-suited Morn appear,
123Not trick'd and frounc'd as she was wont,
125But kerchief'd in a comely cloud,
126While rocking winds are piping loud,
127Or usher'd with a shower still,
128When the gust hath blown his fill,
129Ending on the rustling leaves,
130With minute-drops from off the eaves.
131And when the Sun begins to fling
132His flaring beams, me, goddess, bring
133To arched walks of twilight groves,
135Of pine, or monumental oak,
136Where the rude axe with heaved stroke,
137Was never heard the nymphs to daunt,
138Or fright them from their hallow'd haunt.
139There in close covert by some brook,
140Where no profaner eye may look,
141Hide me from Day's garish eye,
142While the bee with honied thigh,
143That at her flow'ry work doth sing,
144And the waters murmuring
146Entice the dewy-feather'd sleep;
147And let some strange mysterious dream,
148Wave at his wings, in airy stream
149Of lively portraiture display'd,
150Softly on my eye-lids laid.
151And as I wake, sweet music breathe
152Above, about, or underneath,
153Sent by some spirit to mortals good,
154Or th' unseen Genius of the wood.
155      But let my due feet never fail
157And love the high embowed roof,
160Casting a dim religious light.
161There let the pealing organ blow,
162To the full-voic'd quire below,
163In service high, and anthems clear,
164As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
165Dissolve me into ecstasies,
166And bring all Heav'n before mine eyes.
167And may at last my weary age
168Find out the peaceful hermitage,
169The hairy gown and mossy cell,
171Of every star that Heav'n doth shew,
172And every herb that sips the dew;
173Till old experience do attain
174To something like prophetic strain.
175These pleasures, Melancholy, give,
176And I with thee will choose to live.


3] bested. Help. Back to Line
6] fond. Foolish. Back to Line
10] pensioners. Attendants, body-guard.
Morpheus. God of sleep. Back to Line
18] Memnon, King of Ethiopia, the most handsome of the warriors who fought at Troy. His sister, Hemera, is mentioned in the mediaeval romances as a woman of marvellous beauty. Back to Line
19] Cassiopeia, an Ethiopian queen, boasted that her beauty excelled that of the Nereids (sea nymphs). In revenge they set a sea-monster to prey upon her country. After death, she was turned into the constellation Cassiopeia; hence "starred". Back to Line
23] Melancholy is the daughter of Purity (Vesta's fire was kept by the Vestal Virgins) and Solitude (Saturn, the outermost planet, ruled those of melancholy temperament). Back to Line
29] Ida. Mount Ida in Crete, where the infant Jove was nurtured. Back to Line
33] grain. Red. Back to Line
35] Veil of black crape. Back to Line
36] decent. Comely. Back to Line
42] Cf. Milton's Epitaph on Shakespeare: "make us marble with too much conceiving". Back to Line
43] sad. Serious. Back to Line
53] Cf. Ezekiel, i, and Paradise Lost, VI, 749-759. Back to Line
54] Of the nine orders of angels; according to the mediaeval belief, the Cherubim were devoted to knowledge and contemplation. Back to Line
55] hist. Kept silent. Back to Line
56] Philomela, princess of Attica, was turned into a nightingale to escape the vengeance of her brother-in-law. Back to Line
59] The dragon yoke properly belongs to Ceres, goddess of the harvest, not to Cynthia, the moon-goddess. Back to Line
65] The English nightingale is said to cease its singing about the time that the grass is mown. Back to Line
67] wand'ring. Because it changes its position in the heavens throughout the lunar month. Back to Line
83] Cf. Herrick, The Bellman:
From noise of scare-fires rest ye free.
From murders, Benedicite!
From all mischances that may fright
Your pleasing slumbers in the night ...
Back to Line
87] As the Bear never sets, this implies watching till dawn. Back to Line
88] Hermes Trismegistus, a semi-mythical Egyptian magician and philosophic writer, to whom many writings of the Neo-Platonists were once attributed. Back to Line
89] I.e. call down the spirit of Plato from the heavenly sphere which it inhabits. Back to Line
93] demons. Spirits inhabiting the four elements, described by the Neo-Platonists. Cf. Pope's Rape of the Lock, I, 57-66. Back to Line
95] consent. Connection. Back to Line
98] scepter'd pall. Kingly robe. Back to Line
99] Subjects of tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Back to Line
102] buskin'd. Tragic. The buskin or cothurnus was worn by tragic actors. Back to Line
104] Musaeus. A Greek poet of the mythical age to which Orpheus belonged. Back to Line
105] See note on L'Allegro, 150. Back to Line
109] Referring to Chaucer's unfinished Squire's Tale. Back to Line
113] virtuous. Endowed with magic powers. Back to Line
116] E.g. Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser. Back to Line
124] Attic boy, Cephalus, the lover of Aurora. Back to Line
134] Sylvanus, Roman god of forests. Back to Line
145] consort. Harmony. Back to Line
156] cloister's pale. Enclosure. Back to Line
158] massy proof. Of massive solidity. Back to Line
159] dight. Decorated. Back to Line
170] spell. Study, ponder over. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.362; RPO 1996-2000.