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L'Allegro -- John Milton

The first part of
(Poem #279) L'Allegro
Hence, loathed Melancholy
    Of Cerberus, and blackest midnight born,
In Stygian Cave forlorn.
    'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy,
Find out some uncouth cell,
    Where brooding darkness spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-Raven sings;
    There under Ebon shades, and low-brow'd Rocks,
As ragged as thy Locks,
    In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.
But come thou Goddess fair and free,
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;
Or whether (as some Sager sing)
The frolic Wind that breathes the Spring,
Zephyr with Aurora playing,
As he met her once a Maying,
There on Beds of Violets blew,
And fresh-blown Roses wash'd in dew,
Fill'd her with thee a daughter fair,
So bucksome, 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 list'ning how the Hounds and Horn
Cheerly rouse the slumb'ring morn,
From the side of some Hoar Hill,
Through the high wood echoing shrill.
Some time walking not unseen
By Hedge-row Elms, on Hillocks green,
Right against the Eastern gate,
Where the great Sun begins his state,
Rob'd in flames, and Amber light,
The clouds in thousand Liveries dight,
While the Plowman near at hand,
Whistles o'er the Furrow'd Land,
And the Milkmaid singeth blithe,
And the Mower whets his sithe,
And every Shepherd tells his tale
Under the Hawthorn in the dale.
-- John Milton
Milton's genius for epic poetry has meant that he's been sadly under-represented
here on the Minstrels: his greatest works don't lend themselves very readily to
the poem-a-day format. Which is sad, because there are many readers (including
myself, sometimes) who feel that he ranks second only to Shakespeare in the
world of Eng. Lit.

Still, rather than omit him completely [1], I've chosen to break his major
(non-epic) poems - L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Lycidas - into multiple
instalments... this seemed to me to be the lesser of the two evils.

Anyway, on to the poem.

Like Shakespeare before him, Milton had an astonishing facility for creating
phrases that have passed into everyday speech [2], as a quick scan of L'Allegro
will reveal. And again like Shakespeare, it's not just a few phrases here and
there that have entered the collective unconscious; rather, the entire poem
sounds and feels 'just right'. And this is thanks to Milton's consummate mastery
of the language - as a craftsman of words, he rarely (if ever) makes a mistake.
His scansion is flawless, his use of alliteration and allusion unobtrusive yet
effective, his construction elegant and his command of 'atmosphere' nonpareil.

But it would be wrong - indeed, it would be missing the point entirely - to
think of Milton as merely a paragon of technique (such as Swinburne, say, or
perhaps Sitwell). What makes him truly great are his themes: he handles epic
ideas with unparalleled skill and immense power. Here, finally, is a poet whose
subjects match the grandeur and eloquence of his verse.

thomas.

PS. 'Grandeur' - ah, that's the word I was searching for. Milton is all about
grandeur - see, for instance, the dictionary definition of 'Miltonic'.
PPS. As a completely irrelevant aside, this is one of my mother's favourite
poems. Hi Mom!

[1] Or run some of his lesser-known sonnets, the which I'm not a great fan of,
[2] Though sometimes I find myself wondering about cause and effect here: is it
the power of the phrases themselves that ensures their longevity, or is it the
greatness (and deserved popularity) of the poems which contain these phrases?
And is it possible to separate the two in the first place? Hmm.

[Minstrels Links]

We've run two poems by Milton before, both sonnets. The first was the ubiquitous
'On His Blindness', at poem #106

The second, 'On Shakespeare', featured as part of a weeklong theme on the
Minstrels of poets writing about other poets: poem #127.

I make no secrets of my utter devotion to Shakespeare; you can read several of
his poem (and much much more) at http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels ,
where all our poems are archived.

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