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Short poem

John Milton (1608-1674)

Il Penseroso

              1Hence vain deluding Joys,
              2    The brood of Folly without father bred,
              3How little you bested,
              4    Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys;
              5Dwell in some idle brain,
              6    And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
              7As thick and numberless
              8    As the gay motes that people the sunbeams,
              9Or likest hovering dreams,
            10    The fickle pensioners of Morpheus' train.
            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,
            18Prince Memnon's sister might beseem,
            19Or that starr'd Ethiop queen that strove
            20To set her beauty's praise above
            21The sea nymphs, and their powers offended.
            22Yet thou art higher far descended,
            23Thee bright-hair'd Vesta long of yore,
            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
            29Of woody Ida's inmost grove,
            30While yet there was no fear of Jove.
            31Come pensive nun, devout and pure,
            32Sober, stedfast, and demure,
            33All in a robe of darkest grain,
            34Flowing with majestic train,
            35And sable stole of cypress lawn,
            36Over thy decent shoulders drawn.
            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,
            42Forget thyself to marble, till
            43With a sad leaden downward cast,
            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,
            53Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,
            54The cherub Contemplation;
            55And the mute Silence hist along,
            56'Less Philomel will deign a song,
            57In her sweetest, saddest plight,
            58Smoothing the rugged brow of night,
            59While Cynthia checks her dragon yoke,
            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;
            65And missing thee, I walk unseen
            66On the dry smooth-shaven green,
            67To behold the wand'ring Moon,
            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,
            83Or the bellman's drowsy charm,
            84To bless the doors from nightly harm.
            85Or let my lamp at midnight hour,
            86Be seen in some high lonely tow'r,
            87Where I may oft out-watch the Bear,
            88With thrice great Hermes, or unsphere
            89The spirit of Plato, to unfold
            90What worlds, or what vast regions hold
            91The immortal mind that hath forsook
            92Her mansion in this fleshly nook:
            93And of those dæmons that are found
            94In fire, air, flood, or under ground,
            95Whose power hath a true consent
            96With planet, or with element.
            97Sometime let gorgeous Tragedy
            98In sceptr'd pall come sweeping by,
            99Presenting Thebes', or Pelop's line,
          100Or the tale of Troy divine,
          101Or what (though rare) of later age,
          102Ennobled hath the buskin'd stage.
          103But, O sad Virgin, that thy power
          104Might raise Musæus from his bower,
          105Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing
          106Such notes as, warbled to the string,
          107Drew iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
          108And made Hell grant what love did seek.
          109Or call up him that left half told
          110The story of Cambuscan bold,
          111Of Camball, and of Algarsife,
          112And who had Canace to wife,
          113That own'd the virtuous ring and glass,
          114And of the wond'rous horse of brass,
          115On which the Tartar king did ride;
          116And if aught else, great bards beside,
          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,
          124With the Attic boy to hunt,
          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,
          134And shadows brown that Sylvan loves,
          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
          145With such consort as they keep,
          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
          156To walk the studious cloister's pale,
          157And love the high embowed roof,
          158With antique pillars massy proof,
          159And storied windows richly dight,
          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,
          170Where I may sit and rightly spell
          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.

6] fond. Foolish.

10] pensioners. Attendants, body-guard.
Morpheus. God of sleep.

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.

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".

23-24] 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).

29] Ida. Mount Ida in Crete, where the infant Jove was nurtured.

33] grain. Red.

35] Veil of black crape.

36] decent. Comely.

42] Cf. Milton's Epitaph on Shakespeare: "make us marble with too much conceiving".

43] sad. Serious.

53] Cf. Ezekiel, i, and Paradise Lost, VI, 749-759.

54] Of the nine orders of angels; according to the mediaeval belief, the Cherubim were devoted to knowledge and contemplation.

55] hist. Kept silent.

56] Philomela, princess of Attica, was turned into a nightingale to escape the vengeance of her brother-in-law.

59] The dragon yoke properly belongs to Ceres, goddess of the harvest, not to Cynthia, the moon-goddess.

65-66] The English nightingale is said to cease its singing about the time that the grass is mown.

67] wand'ring. Because it changes its position in the heavens throughout the lunar month.

83-84] 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 ...

87] As the Bear never sets, this implies watching till dawn.

88] Hermes Trismegistus, a semi-mythical Egyptian magician and philosophic writer, to whom many writings of the Neo-Platonists were once attributed.

88-89] I.e. call down the spirit of Plato from the heavenly sphere which it inhabits.

93] demons. Spirits inhabiting the four elements, described by the Neo-Platonists. Cf. Pope's Rape of the Lock, I, 57-66.

95] consent. Connection.

98] scepter'd pall. Kingly robe.

99-100] Subjects of tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

102] buskin'd. Tragic. The buskin or cothurnus was worn by tragic actors.

104] Musaeus. A Greek poet of the mythical age to which Orpheus belonged.

105-08] See note on L'Allegro, 150.

109-15] Referring to Chaucer's unfinished Squire's Tale.

113] virtuous. Endowed with magic powers.

116] E.g. Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser.

124] Attic boy, Cephalus, the lover of Aurora.

134] Sylvanus, Roman god of forests.

145] consort. Harmony.

156] cloister's pale. Enclosure.

158] massy proof. Of massive solidity.

159] dight. Decorated.

170] spell. Study, ponder over.

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.1.362; RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/17

Composition date: 1631
Rhyme: varying (mainly couplets)

Other poems by John Milton