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Short poem

John Milton (1608-1674)

Sonnet XII: I did but Prompt the Age to Quit their Clogs

              1I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
              2     By the known rules of ancient liberty,
              3     When straight a barbarous noise environs me
              4     Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes and dogs:
              5As when those hinds that were transform'd to frogs
              6     Rail'd at Latona's twin-born progeny
              7     Which after held the sun and moon in fee.
              8     But this is got by casting pearl to hogs,
              9That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
            10     And still revolt when truth would set them free.
            11     Licence they mean when they cry liberty;
            12For who loves that, must first be wise and good.
            13     But from that mark how far they rove we see,
            14     For all this waste of wealth and loss of blood.


1] Written after Milton's published advocacy of freer divorce had brought upon him criticisms from leading Puritans of the Presbyterian party. First printed in Poems, 1673.
clogs: restraints (literally, a heavy piece of wood attached to the leg to prevent escape).

2] Milton's divorce pamphlets appeal to the liberty given to the Israelites in the Old Dispensation, and to those given permanently to mankind by the law of nature.

5-7] The reference is to the noise made by the frogs into which Latona transformed the rude rustics who, by muddying the waters, prevented her drinking from the lake Lacia, as she flew from the wrath of Juno, carrying her twin off-spring Phoebus and Phoebe, the destined rulers of sun and moon (see Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI, 317-81.

8] Cf. "Give not what is holy unto the dogs; neither cast your pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6).

9-11] Milton extends his condemnation from those who ignorantly reject his doctrine to those who ignorantly welcome it and in so doing make it an excuse for licence.

13] rove: shoot away from the mark.

14] despite the expenditure of wealth and human lives in the war for freedom.

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: Hugh MacCallum, A. S. P. Woodhouse
RP edition: 3RP 1.236.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/24

Composition date: 1645 - 1646
Form: sonnet
Rhyme: abbaabbacdedce

Other poems by John Milton