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Short poem

John Milton (1608-1674)

At a Vacation Exercise


The Latin speeches ended, the English thus began

              1   Hail native language, that by sinews weak
              2Didst move my first endeavouring tongue to speak,
              3And mad'st imperfect words with childish trips,
              4Half unpronounc'd, slide through my infant lips,
              5Driving dumb Silence from the portal door,
              6Where he had mutely sate two years before:
              7Here I salute thee and thy pardon ask,
              8That now I use thee in my latter task:
              9Small loss it is that thence can come unto thee,
            10I know my tongue but little grace can do thee:
            11Thou needst not be ambitious to be first,
            12Believe me I have thither pack'd the worst:
            13And, if it happen as I did forecast,
            14The daintest dishes shall be serv'd up last.
            15I pray thee then deny me not thy aid
            16For this same small neglect that I have made:
            17But haste thee straight to do me once a pleasure,
            18And from thy wardrobe bring thy chiefest treasure;
            19Not those new-fangled toys, and trimming slight
            20Which takes our late fantastics with delight,
            21But cull those richest robes, and gay'st attire
            22Which deepest spirits, and choicest wits desire.
            23I have some naked thoughts that rove about
            24And loudly knock to have their passage out;
            25And weary of their place do only stay
            26Till thou hast deck'd them in thy best array;
            27That so they may without suspect or fears
            28Fly swiftly to this fair assembly's ears.
            29Yet I had rather, if I were to choose,
            30Thy service in some graver subject use,
            31Such as may make thee search thy coffers round,
            32Before thou clothe my fancy in fit sound:
            33Such where the deep transported mind may soar
            34Above the wheeling poles, and at heav'n's door
            35Look in, and see each blissful deity
            36How he before the thunderous throne doth lie,
            37Listening to what unshorn Apollo sings
            38To th'touch of golden wires, while Hebe brings
            39Immortal nectar to her kingly sire;
            40Then passing through the spheres of watchful fire,
            41And misty regions of wide air next under,
            42And hills of snow and lofts of piled thunder,
            43May tell at length how green-ey'd Neptune raves,
            44In heav'n's defiance mustering all his waves;
            45Then sing of secret things that came to pass
            46When beldam Nature in her cradle was;
            47And last of kings and queens and heroes old,
            48Such as the wise Demodocus once told
            49In solemn songs at king Alcinous' feast,
            50While sad Ulysses' soul and all the rest
            51Are held with his melodious harmony
            52In willing chains and sweet captivity.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: John Milton, Poems, 2nd edn. (London: Thomas Dring, 1673). Facs. edn.: Complete Poetical Works reproduced in photographic facsimile, comp. by H. F. Fletcher (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1943-48). PR 3551 F52 ROBA.
First publication date: 1673
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.351.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/17*1:2002/11/9

Other poems by John Milton