Representative Poetry Online
  Poet Index   Poem Index   Random   Search  
  Introduction   Timeline   Calendar   Glossary   Criticism   Bibliography  
  RPO   Canadian Poetry   UTEL  
by Name
by Date
by Title
by First Line
by Last Line
Short poem

John Milton (1608-1674)


              1Hence loathed Melancholy,
              2Of Cerberus, and blackest Midnight born,
              3In Stygian cave forlorn,
              4    'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy;
              5Find out some uncouth cell,
              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,
            10    In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.
            11But come thou goddess fair and free,
            12In heav'n yclep'd Euphrosyne,
            13And by men, heart-easing Mirth,
            14Whom lovely Venus at a birth
            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,
            24So buxom, blithe, and debonair.
            25Haste thee nymph, and bring with thee
            26Jest and youthful Jollity,
            27Quips and cranks, and wanton wiles,
            28Nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles,
            29Such as hang on Hebe's cheek,
            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,
            40In unreproved pleasures free;
            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;
            45Then to come in spite of sorrow,
            46And at my window bid good-morrow,
            47Through the sweet-briar, or the vine,
            48Or the twisted eglantine;
            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,
            60Where the great Sun begins his state,
            61Rob'd in flames, and amber light,
            62The clouds in thousand liveries dight.
            63While the ploughman near at hand,
            64Whistles o'er the furrow'd land,
            65And the milkmaid singeth blithe,
            66And the mower whets his scythe,
            67And every shepherd tells his tale
            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,
            79Where perhaps some beauty lies,
            80The cynosure of neighbouring eyes.
            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.
            91Sometimes with secure delight
            92The upland hamlets will invite,
            93When the merry bells ring round,
            94And the jocund rebecks sound
            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,
          102How Faery Mab the junkets eat,
          103She was pinch'd and pull'd she said,
          104And he by friar's lanthorn led,
          105Tells how the drudging goblin sweat,
          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;
          110Then lies him down, the lubber fiend,
          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.
          125There let Hymen oft appear
          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,
          132If Jonson's learned sock be on,
          133Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
          134Warble his native wood-notes wild.
          135And ever against eating cares,
          136Lap me in soft Lydian airs,
          137Married to immortal verse,
          138Such as the meeting soul may pierce
          139In notes with many a winding bout
          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;
          145That Orpheus' self may heave his head
          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.
          151These delights if thou canst give,
          152Mirth, with thee I mean to live.


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.

2] Cerberus. The three-headed dog that guarded the gates of hell.

3] Stygian. Pertaining to the Styx, one of the four rivers of Hades.

5] uncouth. Unknown, hidden.

10] Cimmerian. The Cimmerii dwelt in a land enveloped in darkness (Odyssey, XII, 14).

14-23] 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."

24] buxom. Lively (literally "pliant").
debonair. Courteous, amiable.

27] quips. Retorts.
cranks. Odd turns of speech.

29] Hebe. Cup-bearer to the gods and personification of eternal youth.

40] unreproved. Unreprovable.

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.

48] eglantine. Either honey-stickle or sweet-briar.

60] state. Ceremonial appearance.

62] dight. Arrayed.

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.

79] lies. Resides.

80] cynosure. Object of absorbing attention, originally the name of the Lesser Bear, the constellation the Phoenicians used to sail by.

91] secure. Carefree.

94] rebecks. Fiddles.

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.

104] friar's lanthorn. Either "Will o' the wisp" or Robin Goodfellow, the "drudging goblin" referred to below.

105] Cf. Midsummer Night's Dream, II, i, 32-41.

110] lubber fiend. Clumsy fairy.

125-26] 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".

132] sock. The low-heeled shoe worn by comic actors, hence a symbol of comedy.

134] Cf. Milton's Epitaph on Shakespeare: "Whiles to the shame of slow-endeavouring art Thy easy numbers flow."

135] eating cares. A literal translation of curas edaces in Horace, Odes, II, viii, 18.

136] Lydian airs. In Greek music the Lydian mood was considered especially tender and voluptuous.

139] bout. Passage.

145-50] 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.

151] Cf. Marlowe, Passionate Shepherd:

If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

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 (1645); facs. edn. (Menston: Scolar Press, 1970). PR 3552 S4 1645a Trinity College Library
First publication date: 1645
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP.1.357; RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/17

Composition date: 1631
Rhyme: varying (mainly couplets)

Other poems by John Milton