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L'Allegro -- John Milton

The second part of
(Poem #281) L'Allegro
Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures
Whilst the Lantskip round it measures,
Russet Lawns, and Fallows Gray,
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
Bosom'd 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 tann'd Haycock in the Mead,
Some times with secure delight
The up-land 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 Chequer'd shade;
And young and old come forth to play
On a Sunshine Holyday,
Till the live-long day-light fail,
Then to the Spicy Nut-brown Ale,
With stories told of many a feat,
How Faery Mab the junkets eat,
She was pinch'd, and pull'd she said,
And by the 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 thresh'd the Corn,
That ten day-labourers could not end,
Then lies him down the Lubber Fiend.
And stretch'd 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 Mattin rings,
Thus done the Tales, to bed they creep,
By whispering Winds soon lull'd asleep.
Tower'd Cites 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,
On Summer eves by haunted stream.
Then to the well-trod stage anon,
If Jonsons 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 heap'd Elysian flowers, and hear
Such strains as would have won the ear
Of Pluto, to have quite set free
His half regain'd Eurydice.
    These delights, if thou canst give,
Mirth with thee, I mean to live.
-- John Milton
There's a wealth of classical allusion in Milton; rather than write any sort of
commentary on this (exquisite) poem, I'll leave you with this

[Glossary]

Aurora: Early morning. According to Grecian mythology, the goddess Aurora,
called by Homer 'rosy-fingered', sets out before the sun, and is the pioneer of
his rising.

Bacchus: In Roman mythology the god of wine. He is represented as a beautiful
youth with black eyes, golden locks, flowing with curls about his shoulders and
filleted with ivy. In peace his robe was purple, in war he was covered with a
panther's skin. His chariot was drawn by panthers.
    Bacchus sprang from the thigh of Zeus. The tale is that Semele asked Zeus to
appear before her in all his glory, but the foolish request proved her death.
Zeus saved the child which was prematurely born by sewing it up in his thigh
till it came to maturity. The Arabian tradition is that the infant Bacchus was
nourished during infancy in a cave of Mount Meros. As 'Meros' is Greek for a
thigh, the Greek fable is readily explained.

Cerberus: A grim, watchful keeper, house-porter, guardian, etc. Cerberus,
according to Roman mythology, is the three-headed dog that keeps the entrance of
the infernal regions. Hercules dragged the monster to earth, and then let him go
again.
    Orpheus lulled Cerberus to sleep with his lyre; and the Sibyl who conducted
Aeneas through the Inferno, also threw the dog into a profound sleep with a cake
seasoned with poppies and honey.
   The origin of the fable of Cerberus is from the custom of the ancient
Egyptians of guarding graves with dogs.

Cimmerian Darkness: Homer (possibly from some story as to the Arctic night)
supposes the Cimmerians to dwell in a land `beyond the ocean-stream,' where the
sun never shone. (Odys., xi. 14.)

Corydon: A swain; a brainless, love-sick spooney. One of the shepherds in
Virgil's eclogues.

Elysium, Elysian Fields: The Paradise or Happy Land of the Greek poets. Elysian
(the adjective) means happy, delightful.

Eurydice: Wife of Orpheus, killed by a serpent on her wedding night. Orpheus
went down to the infernal regions to seek her, and was promised she should
return on condition that he looked not back till she had reached the upper
world. When the poet got to the confines of his journey, he turned his head to
see if Eurydice were following, and she was instantly caught back again into
Hades.

Friar's Lanthorn: the Will o' the Wisp.

Hebe: Goddess of youth, and cup-bearer to the celestial gods. She had the power
of restoring the aged to youth and beauty. (Greek mythology.)

Hymen: God of marriage, a sort of overgrown Cupid. His symbols are a
bridal-torch and veil in his hand.

Mab: The 'fairies' midwife'- i.e. employed by the fairies as midwife of dreams
(to deliver man's brain of dreams). Thus when Romeo says, "I dreamed a dream
to-night", Mercutio replies, "Oh, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you". Sir
Walter Scott follows in the same track: "I have a friend who is peculiarly
favoured with the visits of Queen Mab", meaning with dreams (The Antiquary).
When Mab is called 'queen', it does not mean sovereign, for Titania was Oberon's
wife, but simply female; both midwives and monthly nurses were anciently called
queens or queans. Quen or cwen in Saxon means neither more nor less than woman;
so 'elf-queen', and the Danish ellequinde, mean female elf, and not 'queen of
the elves'. Excellent descriptions of 'Mistress Mab' are given by Shakespeare
(Romeo and Juliet, i. 4), by Ben Jonson, by Herrick, and by Drayton in
Nymphidea. (Mab, Welsh, a baby.)

Orpheus: A Thracian poet who could move even inanimate things by his music. When
his wife Eurydice died he went into the infernal regions, and so charmed King
Pluto that Eurydice was released from death on the condition that Orpheus would
not look back till he reached the earth. He was just about to place his foot on
the earth when he turned round, and Eurydice vanished from him in an instant.
    The tale of Orpheus is thus explained: Aeoneus, King of Thesprotia, was for
his cruelty called Pluto, and having seized Eurydieas she fled from Aristaeos,
detained her captive. Orpheus obtained her release on certain conditions, which
he violated, and lost her a second time.
   There is rather a striking resemblance between the fate of Eurydice and that
of Lot's wife. The former was emerging from hell, the latter from Sodom. Orpheus
looked back and Eurydice was snatched away, Lot's wife looked back and was
converted into a pillar of salt.

Phyllis: A country girl. (Virgil: Eclogues, iii. and v.)

Pluto: The grave, or the god of that region where the dead go to before they are
admitted into Elysium or sent to Tartaros.
     "Brothers, be of good cheer, this night we shall sup with Pluto." -
Leonidas to the three hundred Spartans before the battle of Thermopylae.

Styx: The river of Hate, called by Milton 'abhorred Styx, the flood of burning
hate' (Paradise Lost, ii. 577). It was said to flow nine times round the
infernal regions. (Greek, stugeo, hate.)
    The Styx is a river of Egypt, and the tale is that Isis collected the
various parts of OsIris (murdered by Typhon) and buried them in secrecy on the
banks of the Styx. The classic fables about the Styx are obviously of Egyptian
origin. Charon, as Diodorus informs us, is an Egyptian word for a 'ferryman',
and styx means 'hate'.

Thestylis: Any rustic maiden. In the Idylls of Theocritos, Thestylis is a young
female slave.

Zephyr: The west wind, the son of AEolus and Aurora, and the lover of Flora.
(Roman mythology.)

All these and much more can be found in that wonderful, wonderful reference
book, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, available online at
http://www.bibliomania.com/Reference/PhraseAndFable/

And of course, don't miss the first part of this poem, at poem #279

thomas.

13 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Charles Roser said...

I have always enjoyed this uncharacteristically musical poem by Milton.
It shows that (despite what Samuel Johnson might think) he could write
rhymed lyric verse as well as anyone.

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