Minor Poems by Milton
The purpose held in view by those who place the study of Milton in high
school English courses is twofold: first, that youth may seasonably
become acquainted with a portion of our great classic poetry; and,
secondly, that they may in this poetry encounter and learn to conquer
difficulties more serious than those they have met in the literature they
have hitherto read. It is for the teacher to see to it that both these
aims are attained. The pupil must read with interest, and he must expect
at the same time to have to do some strenuous thinking and not to object
to turning over many books.
The average pupil will not at first read anything of Milton with perfect
enjoyment. He will, with his wonted docility, commit passages to memory,
and he will do his best to speak these passages with the elocution on
which you insist. But the taste for this poetry is an acquired one, and
in the acquisition usually costs efforts quite alien to the prevailing
conceptions of reading as a pleasurable recreation.
The task of pedagogy at this point becomes delicate. First of all, the
teacher must recognize the fact that his class will not, however good
their intentions, leap to a liking for Comus or Lycidas or even for the
Nativity Ode. It is of no use to assign stanzas or lines as lessons and
to expect these to be studied to a conclusion like a task of French
translation. The only way not to be disappointed in the performance of
the class is to expect nothing. It will be well at first, except where
the test is quite simple, for the teacher to read it himself, making
comment, in the way of explanation, as he goes on. Now and then he will
stop and have a little quiz to hold attention. When classical allusions
come up requiring research, the teacher will tell in what books the
matter may be looked up, and will show how other poets, or Milton
elsewhere, have played with the same piece of history or mythology. Thus
a poem may be dealt with for a number of days. Repetition is, to a
certain extent, excellent. The verses begin to sink into the young minds;
the measure appeals to the inborn sense of rhythm; the poem is caught by
the ear like a piece of music; the utterance of it becomes more like
singing than speaking. In fact, the great secret of teaching poetry in
school is to get rid of the commonplace manner of speech befitting a
recitation in language or science, and to put in practice the obvious
truth that verse has its own form, which is very different from the form
of prose. But repetition may go too far. Over-familiarity may beget
indifference. Other poems await the attention of the class.
The teacher who really means to interest his classes, and begins by being
interested and interesting himself, will rarely fail to accomplish his
purpose. The principal obstacle to success here is the necessity, that
frequently exists, of conforming to the custom of examining, marking, and
ranking--a practice that thwarts genuine personal influence, formalizes
all procedures, and tends to deaden natural interest by substituting for
it the artificial interest of school standing. The Milton lesson must be
a serious one because it is given to the study of the serious work of the
gravest and most high-minded of men; and it must be an enjoyable one
because it deals with the verse of the most musical of poets, and because
one mood of joy is the only mood in which literature can be profitably
As to the difficulties which the learner first encounters when he comes
to Milton, these grow sometimes out of the diction, sometimes out of the
syntax, and sometimes out of the poet's figures and allusions. Some
difficulties can be explained at once and completely. Others cannot be
explained at all with any reasonable hope of touching the beginner's mind
with matter that he can appropriate. Often the young reader slips over
points of possible learned annotation without the least consciousness
that here great scholarship might make an imposing display. Perfectly
useless is it to set forth for the pupil the interesting echoes from
ancient poets which generations of delving scholars have accumulated in
their notes to Milton, pleasing as these are to mature readers.
The rule should be to expound and illustrate sufficiently to remove those
perplexities which really tease the pupil's mind and cause him to feel
dissatisfaction with himself. In many cases our only course is to
postpone exposition and to trust that the learner will grow up to the
insight which he as yet does not possess and which we cannot possibly
give him. A learned writer, like Milton, who has read all antiquity, and
who has no purpose of writing for children, inevitably contemplates a
public of men approximately his equals in culture, and expects to find
"fit audience, though few."
But many of the difficulties that confront the beginner in Milton ask
only to be explained at once by some one who has had more experience in
the older literature. Archaic forms of words and expressions, with which
the ripe student is familiar, worry the tyro, and must be accounted for.
Often the common dictionaries will give all needed help; but the best
means of acquiring speedy familiarity with obsolete and rare forms is a
Milton concordance--such as that of Bradshaw--in connection with the
Century Dictionary, or with the Oxford Dictionary, so far as this goes.
These means of easy research should be at hand. I find that pupils often
need a pretty sharp spur to make them use even their abridged
dictionaries. But so far as concerns acquaintance with the vocabulary of
poetic diction, nothing will do except the dictionary habit, accompanied
by an effort of the memory to retain what has been learned.
Difficulties that lurk in an involved syntax the pupil may usually be
expected to solve by study. But such a peculiar construction as that in
Sonnet X 9 will probably have to be explained to him.
In the puritan theology and its implications he cannot take much
interest, and will of course not be asked to do so. But high school
students of Milton will ordinarily, in their historical courses, have
come down to the times in which the poet lived, will understand his
relation to public events, and will appreciate his feeling toward the
English ecclesiastical system. Puritanism, a phenomenon of the most
tremendous importance at a certain period of English history, has so
completely disappeared from the modern world, that the utterances of a
seventeenth-century poet, professedly a partisan, on matters of church
and state, no longer exasperate, and can barely even interest, students
To read either Paradise Lost or the Divine Comedy we must find the poet's
cosmical and his theological standpoint. We have no right to be surprised
or shocked at his conceptions. We must take him as he is, and let him
lead us through the universe as he has planned it. So long as we set up
our modern views as a standard, and by this standard judge the ancient
men, we fail in hospitality of thought, and come short of our duty as
This consideration suggests yet another purpose in setting youth to the
reading of Milton. By no means an ancient poet, he takes us,
nevertheless, to a world different from our own, and in some sense helps
us out of the modern time in which our lives have fallen, to show us how
other ages conceived of God and Heaven. The mark of an educated man is
respect for the past; the old philosophies and religions do not startle
and repel him; his ancestors were once in those stages of belief; in some
stage of this vast movement of thought he and his fellows are at the
present moment. This largeness of view can be fruitfully impressed on
youth only by letting them read, under wise guidance, the older poets.
OUTLINES OF THE LIFE OF MILTON.
John Milton was born in London on the ninth of December, 1608. Queen
Elizabeth had then been dead five years, and the literature which we call
Elizabethan was still being written by the men who had begun their
careers under her reign. Spenser had died in 1599. The theatres were yet
in the enjoyment of full popularity, and the play-writers were producing
works that continued the traditions and the manner of the Elizabethan
drama. Shakespeare had still eight years to live, and at least four of
the great plays to write. Bacon's fame was already great, but the events
of eighteen years were to cloud his reputation and establish his renown.
Jonson, great as a writer of masks, was to live till he might have seen,
in Comus, how a young and scholarly puritan humanist thought that a mask
should be conceived.
Born thus in the fifth year of the first of the Stuarts, Milton lived to
witness all the vicissitudes of English politics in which that family was
involved, except the very last. He did not see the Revolution of 1688.
Surviving for fourteen years the restoration of Charles II., he died in
1674, at the age of sixty-six.
Milton's social position can be inferred from the fact that his father
was what was then called a scrivener,--that is, he kept an office in his
dwelling, and was employed to draw up contracts, wills, and other legal
documents. This occupation implied knowledge at least of the forms of the
law, though not of its history or principles. It did not imply liberal
education, though it brought its practitioner, doubtless, more or less
into contact with men of really professional standing in the science of
jurisprudence. Perhaps the elder Milton cherished a deeper conviction of
the value of classic culture than do those who simply inherit, and take
as a matter of course, the custom of devoting years to the study of
ancient languages and literatures.
Evidently the father thought he saw in his son that promise of
intellectual vigor and of sound moral stamina which justified the
innovation, in his family, of sending his boy to the university. His
preparation for college Milton got under private masters and at the
famous public school of St. Paul's, which was near his home. This
preparation consisted chiefly in exercises in Latin composition and
literature, and was both thorough and effectual. At sixteen, when he went
to college, he had already composed Latin verse, and he read and wrote
Latin with facility.
In 1625 Milton entered Christ's College, Cambridge. Here he remained as a
student seven years, or till 1632, taking in course his A.B. and A.M.
degrees, and, in spite of his studious habits and his aversion to the
rough and wayward customs of student life, winning more and more, and at
last having in full measure, the respect of his fellow-collegians. During
these years he wrote, but did not publish, in Latin or English, no less
than twenty-five pieces of verse, among them poems of no less note than
the Nativity Ode, and the Sonnet on arriving at the age of twenty-three.
The lines on Shakespeare were also composed in this period, and appeared
in print among the poems prefixed to the second Shakespeare folio in
Returning, at the close of his university course, to the paternal
residence, the poet came, not to London, but to the village of Horton, in
Buckinghamshire, where his father had taken a house in order to live in
the country. Now had to be debated the question of a profession. Hitherto
the son had seemed silently to acquiesce in the understood hope of the
family that he would devote himself to a career in the church. But during
his university years of study and observation his views had become fixed,
his mind had advanced to self-determination, and he could not remain
content with a future that seemed to hamper his intellectual freedom.
This difference between father and son was settled, apparently without
strife, by the elder man's entire yielding to the desires of the younger.
The son could not, as we can well understand if we have read even only a
little of his verse or his prose, be otherwise than strenuous, insistent,
and masterful. To his father he was of course filial and respectful, we
may imagine him even gentle; but conciliatory, yielding, the point being
a vital one, it was not in his nature to be.
What the young Milton desired was to lead a life devoted to literature,
or, more specifically, to poetry. This meant that he wished still to
study a long time, to fathom all learning in all tongues. In college he
had, besides Latin, mastered Greek, French, Italian, and Hebrew. His
conception of a poet was of a most profoundly learned man. He had become
aware of the existence of vast areas of knowledge that he had not yet
explored. Other young men turned aside without misgiving from the
ambition to know everything, and eagerly entered into useful and
lucrative professions. But Milton scorns the thought of applying learning
to the service of material gain. This is his poetical conception of his
duty as a scholar. It will dominate the spirit of his life work. To
understand his feelings at this time both toward his father and toward
his ideals, we must read the Latin poem Ad Patrem, of which Professor
Masson gives an English translation.
At Horton, therefore, Milton remains, still subsisting on his father's
bounty. Having come back thither at the age of twenty-three, he continues
to live at home for nearly six years, not yet practising any art by which
to earn a livelihood. Occasionally he goes, on scholarly errands, to
London, which is not far distant. He devotes himself simply to study, and
having the poetic temperament, he cannot help devoting himself also to
observation of nature. His learning becomes immense; his appetite is
To the Horton time belong the "minor poems" not already produced during
the student years at Cambridge. Of the circumstances in which the several
poems were written, an account is given in the Notes in this volume. This
early, or minor, verse of Milton is elicited by passing events, and is
considered to concern only himself and a few friends. For immediate fame
he takes no thought. He feels his immaturity. His ambition contemplates a
distant future, and he meditates plans, as yet undefined and vague, of
some great work that the world shall not willingly let die.
Very important in Milton's intellectual development is his journey to
France and Italy, on which he set out in April, 1638. As an indication of
his social position in England, we must note that he carries with him
letters of introduction which secure to him notice and recognition from
men of rank or of notable literary and scientific standing. He goes
abroad as a cultivated private gentleman, known to have achieved
distinction as a student. Undoubtedly his chief qualification for holding
his own in learned Italian society was his command of languages,
especially of Latin, unless indeed we are to put before his linguistic
accomplishments the refined and gentlemanly personal bearing which was
his birthright, and which, in his years of intense application to books,
he had not forfeited. In Italy he associated with men whose intellectual
interests were the universal ones of science, in which he was as much at
home as they. Thus he possessed a perfect outfit of the endowments and
the acquisitions which a traveller needs to make his travel fruitful to
himself and honorable to his country.
In Italy he made friends among men of note, and established relations
which were to have their importance in his future life. But most
memorable among his Italian experiences was his visit to the aged
Galileo, who was then a "prisoner to the Inquisition" for teaching that
the earth moves round the sun. The modern astronomy was then winning its
way among men of thought very much as the doctrine of evolution has been
winning its way during the last half century. Few minds surrendered
instantly and without misgiving to the new conception. Milton has still
many years to meditate the question before he comes to the composition of
Paradise Lost, when his scheme of the physical universe will have to
recognize the requirements of poetic art and the prevalence of ancient
beliefs regarding the origin and order of the cosmos. From the fact that
the poet puts the earth in the centre of the universe, that he adopts, in
fact, the Ptolemaic system, though he knew the Copernican, we are not
entitled to infer that he held a fixed conviction in the matter, and
that, on direct examination as to his views, he would have absolutely
professed one theory and rejected the other. The poet has all rights of
choice, and may be said to know best where to stand to take his view of
Milton remained abroad some sixteen months, and was home again in August,
1639. The Horton household was now broken up, the father going to live,
first with his younger son, Christopher, at Reading, and afterward to
spend his last years in the family of John in London, where he died in
With his removal to London in 1639 a distinct period in Milton's life
comes to an end. He has hitherto been uninterruptedly acquiring knowledge
both by studious devotion to books and by observation of human life in
foreign lands. He has read all the great literatures in ancient and
modern languages. He has felt the poetic impulse and has proved to
himself that he has at command creative power. His purpose still is to
produce a poem. But this poem of his aspirations is distinctly a great
and majestic affair, and not at all a continuation of such work as that
which he has hitherto given to his friends, and which he esteems as
prolusions of his youth.
The poetic waiting-time which Milton, now in full vigor of manhood,
prescribes for himself, he is constrained, both by inner conviction and
by external necessity, to fill with hard and earnest work. Henceforth,
for a score of years, he ceases almost entirely to write verse, and he
earns his living. He becomes a householder in London, where, as the
father had gained his livelihood by drawing up contracts and mortgages
for his fellow-citizens, the son proceeds to gain his by teaching their
To the work of teaching, Milton addressed himself with intelligence and
predilection. About education he had ideas of his own which he applied in
practice and advocated in writing. His Tract on Education is a document
of importance in the history of pedagogy, and is, besides, one of those
memorable pieces of English prose which every student of literature,
whatever his professional aims, must include in his reading. He kept his
school in his own house, where he boarded some of his pupils. We could
not imagine John Milton going into a great public school, like St.
Paul's, to serve as under-teacher to one of the tyrannical head-masters
of the day. The only school befitting his absolutely convinced and
masterful spirit is one in which he reigns supreme. The great subject is
Latin, and so thoroughly is Latin taught that finally other subjects are
explained through the medium of this language. He had, himself, brought
from his school and college days very decided discontent with the methods
then in vogue. This discontent he expresses in language of peculiar
energy and even harshness. He is a true reformer.
In 1643 Milton, then thirty-five years old, married Mary Powell, a girl
of just half his own age, daughter of a royalist residing near Oxford. We
must imagine this young wife as coming to preside, somewhat in the
capacity of matron, over a family of boys held severely to their tasks of
study by a master in whom the sense of humor was almost entirely lacking,
and whose discipline was of the sternest. That she could not endure the
situation was but natural. Very soon after the wedding she went home with
the understanding that she was to make a short visit to her parents and
sisters; but she did not return for two years. Her husband summoned her,
but she would not come back. In 1645 she at last repented of her
waywardness, sought reconciliation, and was forgiven. These two years had
wrought a change in Mary Powell Milton. She was now ready to live with
her husband, and did so till her death in 1652. She left him three
daughters, the youngest of whom, Deborah, lived till 1723, and was known
to Addison and his contemporaries, from whom she received distinguished
In reading Milton we find that all the vicissitudes of his life reflect
themselves in his works, so that the political and social events in which
he is personally concerned usurp his attention, color his views, and
often become his themes. Thus he is not, like Shakespeare, a critic of
the whole of humanity, but is usually an advocate or an accuser of the
leaders in church and state and of the principles which they profess. He
is by nature a partisan. All the energy of his mind goes into
denunciation or vindication. His experience of wedded life made him an
advocate of easier divorce, and determined in him a mood which expressed
itself in writings that naturally brought upon him obloquy even from
those who held him most in honor.
It would be most interesting to know something of the daily routine of
Milton's school, to ascertain what his pupils knew and could do when he
had done with them. But we must remember that during all the years of his
teaching the great Revolution was in progress, that all men of thought
were profoundly stirred on public questions, and that Milton himself was
a politician and an eager partisan of the cause of Parliament. He did not
consider himself a teacher finally and for good. His school did not
develop into anything great or conspicuous, and never became an object of
curiosity. While yet engaged in such teaching as he found to do, he had
written the pamphlets on education and on divorce, and also the famous
one entitled Areopagitica, a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed
Printing to the Parliament of England. This is the best worth reading of
all his prose writings. The subject of it is perfectly intelligible
still, and its English shows to perfection the qualities of the great
After the execution of Charles I., Jan. 30, 1649, it became more than
ever necessary for all thoughtful men to express their convictions. For a
people to put to death its king by judicial process was an unheard of
event. Those who considered that the Parliament had acted within the law
and could not have done otherwise with due regard to the welfare of the
nation had to convince doubting and timid citizens at home, and also, so
far as was possible, to placate critics in other nations who still
believed that the king could do no wrong; for all Europe interested
itself in this tremendous act of the English Parliament.
Within a fortnight after the death of the king, Milton published his
pamphlet on The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. This work so impressed
the parliamentary leaders as a thorough and unanswerable argument in
defence of their cause that they sought out its author, and in March
appointed him to the important post of Secretary for Foreign Tongues.
Milton's perfect command of Latin now stood him in good stead. Here was
an uncompromising puritan, fully the equal of the foreign ecclesiastics
in theology, and capable of holding his own in Latin composition with the
most famous humanists of the time. Latin was then the language of
international intercourse. Milton's duty was to translate into and from
Latin the despatches that passed between his own and foreign governments.
He also composed original treatises, some in English and some in Latin,
the most important of which continued his justification of the national
act of regicide. The importance of these writings was very great.
Milton's services to the puritan cause can to-day hardly be appreciated.
It was the constant aim of royalists at home and abroad to represent
England as having fallen under the control of ignorant fanatics, of
ambitious, barbarous, blood-thirsty men. By his very personality, his
knowledge of affairs, his familiarity with ancient and mediæval history,
and, above all, by his fluency in Latin invective, Milton thwarted
attempts to disparage his countrymen as lawless barbarians. He helped to
maintain the good name of his country as a land of intellectual light and
of respect for ancient usage. Foreigners who attempted personal
vilification found him ready to meet them with their own weapons. The
poet of Comus now shows himself a controversialist of unbounded energy.
In 1652, shortly before the death of his wife, Milton became totally
blind. Henceforward the duties of his secretaryship had to be performed
with the aid of an amanuensis. He continued, however, to fill the office
till just before the end of the Protectorate in 1659. In November, 1656,
he married Katharine Woodcocke, who lived but till March, 1658. She left
an infant which died a month after the mother.
Milton's duties as Secretary for Foreign Tongues must have brought him,
one would think, into some sort of personal relation with Cromwell and
the other great parliamentary leaders. The poet leaves us in no doubt as
to the high esteem in which he held these men. But no gossip of the time
admits us to a glimpse of their intercourse with each other. It falls to
Milton to eulogize Cromwell; it never came in Cromwell's way to put on
record his estimate of Milton.
With the restoration of royalty in the person of Charles II., in 1660,
Milton's public activity of course ceased, and the second period of his
life comes to an end. We saw his first period devoted to preparation and
to early essays in poetry, with the distinct conception that poetry was
yet to be the great work of his life. In his second period he expresses
himself in verse but rarely and briefly, but produces controversial
prose, now in English, now in Latin. In this second period he works, as
teacher or as public secretary, for payment, supporting himself and
family. When the third period begins, he loses all employment, goes into
closest retirement, a widower with three daughters growing up from
childhood, and devotes himself to the poetry that he has always
contemplated as the object of his ambition. He has now been blind eight
In view of the conspicuous part that Milton had taken in defending the
right of Parliament to bring a king to the scaffold, it is surprising
that of the Restoration he was not included in the number of those marked
out for the punishment of death. He was for some time undoubtedly in
danger. Fortunately he was overlooked, or, perhaps, was purposely
neglected as being henceforce harmless.
In February, 1663, he married his third wife Elizabeth Minshull, who
faithfully cared for him till his death in 1674.
During this last period of his life Milton composed and published his
major poems,--Paradise Lost, 1667, Paradise Regained, and Samson
Agonistes, 1671. For Paradise Lost he received from his publisher five
pounds in cash, with promise of five pounds when thirteen hundred copies
should have been sold, and of two more payments, each of the same sum,
when two more editions of the same size should have been disposed of.
The last years of his life Milton appears to have spent in comparative
comfort. His three daughters had gone out to learn trades. It seems he
had given them no education. It may be they showed no desire or aptitude
for instruction. Far more probably, however, he took no interest in their
education. His ideal of womanhood, as may be gathered from numerous
passages in his poems, is as far as possible removed from the modern
conception of sexual equality as to opportunity for education and for
training to self-determination. He shared in this respect the views that
prevailed during his day in all classes of society, and he maintained
these views as a parent no less than as the poet of Paradise.
Besides the poems named above as produced during this last period of his
life, Milton published also in these years several prose works, which
have now little value except as showing the bent and occupation of his
mind. Among these may be named a small Latin Grammar, written in English,
which he had composed long before, and a History of Britain to the Norman
Though the immediate sale of Paradise Lost was not large, according to
our ideas, it was yet sufficient to indicate a very respectable interest
in the reading public of the day. We must remember that it appeared in
the corrupt time of the Restoration, when the prevailing literary fashion
was wholly adverse to seriousness and ideality. The age was spiritually
degenerate. Milton himself considered that he lived "an age too late."
The great poem had no royal or noble sponsors to give it vogue; yet it
made its way. By no means had all minds become frivolous. The minor poems
had been published by themselves in 1645. These had always had their
readers. The prose pamphlets of the secretary for foreign tongues were,
at least by a small class of observant persons, known to be the work of
the author of Comus and Lycidas. There were not wanting men to take a
sympathetic interest in the fate of the poet in his retirement, and to
note the appearance of Paradise Lost as a literary event.
Thus it was that Milton lived to have some slight foretaste of the honor
which two centuries have bestowed on his memory. Visitors came to see him
in his modest dwelling in an unfashionable quarter of London. Foreigners
occasionally came to satisfy their curiosity. Dryden, the chief poet who
wrote in the spirit of the Restoration, called to talk with the author of
Paradise Lost, and to suggest improvements in the form of the poem, which
he thought should be in rhyme. The recognition which the poet thus got in
his lifetime is small only in comparison with the immense fame he has won
since his death.
Milton has now become an object of the profoundest curiosity. His life
has been investigated by Professor Masson, with a minute scrutiny into
detail such as has been devoted to no other writer but Shakespeare. His
works are perpetually reprinted in all imaginable forms, whether of
cheapness or of sumptuous elegance. They are read as text-books in
schools by hosts of youth. Our beliefs regarding the great themes of the
sacred scriptures are so colored by the Miltonic epics that we hardly
know to-day just what part of our conceptions we owe to the Bible and
what to the poet. Next to the Shakespearean dramas, the poems of Milton
are the largest single influence that knits the English-speaking race
into one vast brotherhood.
All students of Milton have to acknowledge their indebtedness to
Professor David Masson of Edinburgh, who has devoted years of labor to
research in every department of Miltonic lore. Masson's great Life of
Milton in Connexion with the History of his Time is far too bulky for use
except for reference on special points. The index volume makes the
enormous Work accessible as occasion requires.
To his edition of the poetical works, Masson prefixes a life, which will
suffice for all the needs likely to arise in school. Yet again, Masson is
the writer of the article on Milton in the Encyclopædia Britannica, a
most complete presentment of everything a student ordinarily needs to
In the series of Classical Writers is a little book, or primer, on
Milton, written by Stopford A. Brooke.
In the English Men of Letters series, the Milton is the work of Mark
The latest good account of Milton is the book entitled simply John
Milton, by Walter Raleigh, professor at University College, Liverpool.
This is a remarkably vigorous and illuminating piece of criticism.
Perhaps the most interesting writing on a Milton subject is the book by
Mrs. Anne Manning, The Maiden and Married Life of Mary Powell (afterward
Mrs. Milton), and the sequel thereto, Deborah's Diary. This the student
must read with the full understanding that it is a work of fiction.
It is right to warn young readers against the natural tendency to give
their time to critical and expository books and articles before they make
acquaintance with originals. Almost every essayist of note has written on
Milton. There is danger lest we accept opinions at second hand. The only
opinions on Milton to which we have any right are those we form from our
own reading of his works.
MILTON'S MINOR POEMS.
ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY.
This is the month, and this the happy morn,
Wherein the Son of Heaven's eternal King,
Of wedded maid and virgin mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing, 5
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
That glorious form, that light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heaven's high council-table 10
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside, and, here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.
Say, Heavenly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein 15
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,
To welcome him to this his new abode,
Now while the heaven, by the Sun's team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approaching light, 20
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?
See how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led wizards haste with odors sweet!
Oh! run; prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet; 25
Have thou the honor first thy Lord to greet,
And join thy voice unto the Angel Quire,
From out his secret altar touched with hallowed fire.
It was the winter wild,
While the heaven-born child 30
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature, in awe to him,
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her 35
To wanton with the Sun, her lusty paramour.
Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow,
And on her naked shame, 40
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw;
Confounded, that her Maker's eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.
But he, her fears to cease, 45
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace:
She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing; 50
And, waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.
No war, or battle's sound,
Was heard the world around;
The idle spear and shield were high uphung; 55
The hooked chariot stood,
Unstained with hostile blood;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
And kings sat still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by. 60
But peaceful was the night
Wherein the Prince of Light
His reign of peace upon the earth began.
The winds, with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kissed, 65
Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.
The stars, with deep amaze,
Stand fixed in steadfast gaze, 70
Bending one way their precious influence,
And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,
Or Lucifer that often warned them thence;
But in their glimmering orbs did glow, 75
Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.
And, though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
The Sun himself withheld his wonted speed,
And hid his head for shame, 80
As his inferior flame
The new-enlightened world no more should need:
He saw a greater Sun appear
Than his bright throne or burning axletree could bear.
The shepherds on the lawn, 85
Or ere the point of dawn,
Sat simply chatting in a rustic row;
Full little thought they than
That the mighty Pan
Was kindly come to live with them below: 90
Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep,
Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep.
When such music sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet
As never was by mortal finger strook, 95
Answering the stringed noise,
As all their souls in blissful rapture took:
The air, such pleasure loth to lose, 99
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heavenly close.
Nature, that heard such sound
Beneath the hollow round
Of Cynthia's seat the Airy region thrilling,
Now was almost won
To think her part was done, 105
And that her reign had here its last fulfilling:
She knew such harmony alone
Could hold all Heaven and Earth in happier union.
At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light, 110
That with long beams the shamefaced Night arrayed;
The helmed cherubim
And sworded seraphim
Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed,
Harping in loud and solemn quire, 115
With unexpressive notes, to Heaven's new-born Heir.
Such music (as 'tis said)
Before was never made,
But when of old the Sons of Morning sung,
While the Creator great 120
His constellations set,
And the well-balanced World on hinges hung,
And cast the dark foundations deep,
And bid the weltering waves their oozy channel keep.
Ring out, ye crystal spheres! 125
Once bless our human ears,
If ye have power to touch our senses so;
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time;
And let the bass of heaven's deep organ blow; 130
And with your ninefold harmony
Make up full consort to the angelic symphony.
For, if such holy song
Enwrap our fancy long,
Time will run back and fetch the Age of Gold; 135
And speckled Vanity
Will sicken soon and die,
And leprous Sin will melt from earthly mould;
And Hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day. 140
Yea, Truth and Justice then
Will down return to men,
Orbed in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,
Mercy will sit between,
Throned in celestial sheen, 145
With radiant feet the tissued clouds down steering;
And Heaven, as at some festival,
Will open wide the gates of her high palace-hall.
But wisest Fate says No,
This must not yet be so; 150
The Babe yet lies in smiling infancy
That on the bitter cross
Must redeem our loss,
So both himself and us to glorify:
Yet first, to those ychained in sleep, 155
The wakeful trump of doom must thunder through the deep.
With such a horrid clang
As on Mount Sinai rang,
While the red fire and smouldering clouds outbrake:
The aged Earth, aghast 160
With terror of that blast,
Shall from the surface to the centre shake,
When, at the world's last session,
The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.
And then at last our bliss 165
Full and perfect is,
But now begins; for from this happy day
The Old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway, 170
And, wroth to see his kingdom fail,
Swinges the scaly horror of his folded tail.
The Oracles are dumb;
No voice or hideous hum
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving. 175
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance, or breathed spell,
Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell. 180
The lonely mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
From haunted spring, and dale
Edged with poplar pale, 185
The parting Genius is with sighing sent;
With flower-inwoven tresses torn
The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.
In consecrated earth,
And on the holy hearth, 190
The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint;
In urns, and altars round,
A drear and dying sound
Affrights the flamens at their service quaint;
And the chill marble seems to sweat, 195
While each peculiar power forgoes his wonted seat.
Peor and Baälim
Forsake their temples dim,
With that twice-battered god of Palestine;
And mooned Ashtaroth, 200
Heaven's queen and mother both,
Now sits not girt with tapers' holy shine:
The Lybic Hammon shrinks his horn;
In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.
And sullen Moloch, fled, 205
Hath left in shadows dread
His burning idol all of blackest hue;
In vain with cymbals' ring
They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue; 210
The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
Isis, and Orus, and the dog Anubis, haste.
Nor is Osiris seen
In Memphian grove or green, 214
Trampling the unshowered grass with lowings loud; 215
Nor can he be at rest
Within his sacred chest;
Nought but profoundest Hell can be his shroud;
In vain, with timbrelled anthems dark,
The sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipped ark. 220
He feels from Juda's land
The dreaded Infant's hand;
The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;
Nor all the gods beside
Longer dare abide, 225
Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:
Our Babe, to show his Godhead true,
Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew.
So, when the sun in bed,
Curtained with cloudy red, 230
Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,
The flocking shadows pale
Troop to the infernal jail,
Each fettered ghost slips to his several grave,
And the yellow-skirted fays 235
Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze.
But see! the Virgin blest
Hath laid her Babe to rest.
Time is our tedious song should here have ending:
Heaven's youngest-teemed star 240
Hath fixed her polished car,
Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending;
And all about the courtly stable
Bright-harnessed Angels sit in order serviceable.
ON SHAKESPEARE. 1630.
What needs my Shakespeare for his honored bones
The labor of an age in piled stones?
Or that his hallowed reliques should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of memory, great heir of fame, 5
What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a livelong monument.
For whilst, to the shame of slow-endeavoring art
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart 10
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,
Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving,
And so sepulchred in such pomp dost lie 15
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.
Hence, loathed Melancholy,
Of Cerberus and blackest Midnight born
In Stygian cave forlorn
'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy!
Find out some uncouth cell, 5
Where brooding Darkness spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-raven sings;
There, under ebon shades and low-browed rocks,
As ragged as thy locks,
In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell. 10
But come, thou Goddess fair and free,
In heaven yclept Euphrosyne,
And by men heart-easing Mirth;
Whom lovely Venus, at a birth,
With two sister Graces more, 15
To ivy-crowned Bacchus bore:
Or whether (as some sager sing)
The frolic wind that breathes the spring,
Zephyr, with Aurora playing,
As he met her once a-Maying, 20
There, on beds of violets blue,
And fresh-blown roses washed in dew,
Filled her with thee, a daughter fair,
So buxom, blithe, and debonair.
Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee 25
Jest, and youthful Jollity,
Quips and Cranks and wanton Wiles,
Nods and Becks and wreathed Smiles,
Such as hang on Hebe's cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek; 30
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it, as you go,
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee 35
The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty;
And, if I give thee honor due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
To live with her, and live with thee,
In unreproved pleasures free; 40
To hear the lark begin his flight,
And, singing, startle the dull night,
From his watch-tower in the skies,
Till the dappled dawn doth rise;
Then to come, in spite of sorrow, 45
And at my window bid good-morrow,
Through the sweet-briar or the vine,
Or the twisted eglantine;
While the cock, with lively din,
Scatters the rear of darkness thin; 50
And to the stack, or the barn-door,
Stoutly struts his dames before:
Oft listening how the hounds and horn
Cheerly rouse the slumbering morn,
From the side of some hoar hill, 55
Through the high wood echoing shrill:
Sometime walking, not unseen,
By hedgerow elms, on hillocks green,
Right against the eastern gate
Where the great Sun begins his state, 60
Robed in flames and amber light,
The clouds in thousand liveries dight;
While the ploughman, near at hand,
Whistles o'er the furrowed land,
And the milkmaid singeth blithe, 65
And the mower whets his scythe,
And every shepherd tells his tale
Under the hawthorn in the dale.
Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures,
Whilst the landskip round it measures: 70
Russet lawns, and fallows gray,
Where the nibbling flocks do stray;
Mountains on whose barren breast
The laboring clouds do often rest;
Meadows trim, with daisies pied; 75
Shallow brooks, and rivers wide;
Towers and battlements it sees
Bosomed high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies,
The cynosure of neighboring eyes. 80
Hard by a cottage chimney smokes
From betwixt two aged oaks,
Where Corydon and Thyrsis met
Are at their savory dinner set
Of herbs and other country messes, 85
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 tanned haycock in the mead. 90
Sometimes, with secure delight,
The upland hamlets will invite,
When the merry bells ring round,
And the jocund rebecks sound
To many a youth and many a maid 95
Dancing in the chequered shade,
And young and old come forth to play
On a sunshine holiday,
Till the livelong daylight fail:
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale, 100
With stories told of many a feat,
How Faery Mab the junkets eat.
She was pinched and pulled, she said;
And he, by Friar's lantern led,
Tells how the drudging goblin sweat 105
To earn his cream-bowl duly set,
When in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
His shadowy flail hath threshed the corn
That ten day-laborers could not end;
Then lies him down, the lubber fiend, 110
And, stretched 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 matin rings.
Thus done the tales, to bed they creep, 115
By whispering winds soon lulled asleep.
Towered cities please us then,
And the busy hum of men,
Where throngs of knights and barons bold,
In weeds of peace, high triumphs hold, 120
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 125
In saffron robe, with taper clear,
And pomp, and feast, and revelry,
With mask and antique pageantry;
Such sights as youthful poets dream,
On summer eves by haunted stream. 130
Then to the well-trod stage anon,
If Jonson's learned sock be on,
Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
Warble his native wood-notes wild,
And ever, against eating cares, 135
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 140
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 145
From golden slumber on a bed
Of heaped Elysian flowers, and hear
Such strains as would have won the ear
Of Pluto to have quite set free
His half-regained Eurydice. 150
These delights if thou canst give,
Mirth, with thee I mean to live.
Hence, vain deluding Joys,
The brood of Folly without father bred!
How little you bested,
Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys!
Dwell in some idle brain, 5
And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
As thick and numberless
As the gay motes that people the sun-beams,
Or likest hovering dreams,
The fickle pensioners of Morpheus' train. 10
But, hail! thou Goddess sage and holy!
Hail, divinest Melancholy!
Whose saintly visage is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight,
And therefore to our weaker view, 15
O'erlaid with black, staid Wisdom's hue;
Black, but such as in esteem
Prince Memnon's sister might beseem,
Or that starred Ethiop queen that strove
To set her beauty's praise above 20
The Sea-Nymphs, and their powers offended.
Yet thou art higher far descended:
Thee bright-haired Vesta long of yore
To solitary Saturn bore;
His daughter she; in Saturn's reign 25
Such mixture was not held a stain.
Oft in glimmering bowers and glades
He met her, and in secret shades
Of woody Ida's inmost grove,
Whilst yet there was no fear of Jove. 30
Come, pensive Nun, devout and pure,
Sober, steadfast, and demure,
All in a robe of darkest grain,
Flowing with majestic train,
And sable stole of cypress lawn 35
Over thy decent shoulders drawn.
Come; but keep thy wonted state,
With even step, and musing gait,
And looks commercing with the skies
Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes: 40
There, held in holy passion still,
Forget thyself to marble, till
With a sad leaden downward cast
Thou fix them on the earth as fast.
And join with thee calm Peace and Quiet, 45
Spare Fast, that oft with gods doth diet,
And hears the Muses in a ring
Aye round about Jove's altar sing;
And add to these retired Leisure,
That in trim gardens takes his pleasure; 50
But, first and chiefest, with thee bring
Him that yon soars on golden wing,
Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,
The Cherub Contemplation;
And the mute Silence hist along, 55
'Less Philomel will deign a song,
In her sweetest, saddest plight,
Smoothing the rugged brow of Night,
While Cynthia checks her dragon yoke
Gently o'er the accustomed oak. 60
Sweet bird, that shunn'st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy!
Thee, chauntress, oft the woods among
I woo, to hear thy even-song;
And, missing thee, I walk unseen 65
On the dry smooth-shaven green,
To behold the wandering moon,
Riding near her highest noon,
Like one that had been led astray
Through the heaven's wide pathless way, 70
And oft, as if her head she bowed,
Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
Oft, on a plat of rising ground,
I hear the far-off curfew sound,
Over some wide-watered shore, 75
Swinging slow with sullen roar;
Or, if the air will not permit,
Some still removed place will fit,
Where glowing embers through the room
Teach light to counterfeit a gloom, 80
Far from all resort of mirth,
Save the cricket on the hearth,
Or the bellman's drowsy charm
To bless the doors from nightly harm.
Or let my lamp, at midnight hour, 85
Be seen in some high lonely tower,
Where I may oft outwatch the Bear,
With thrice great Hermes, or unsphere
The spirit of Plato, to unfold
What worlds or what vast regions hold 90
The immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook;
And of those demons that are found
In fire, air, flood, or underground,
Whose power hath a true consent 95
With planet or with element.
Sometime let gorgeous Tragedy
In sceptred pall come sweeping by,
Presenting Thebes, or Pelops' line,
Or the tale of Troy divine, 100
Or what (though rare) of later age
Ennobled hath the buskined stage.
But, O sad Virgin! that thy power
Might raise Musæus from his bower;
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing 105
Such notes as, warbled to the string,
Drew iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
And made Hell grant what love did seek;
Or call up him that left half-told
The story of Cambuscan bold, 110
Of Camball, and of Algarsife,
And who had Canace to wife,
That owned the virtuous ring and glass,
And of the wondrous horse of brass
On which the Tartar king did ride; 115
And if aught else great bards beside
In sage and solemn tunes have sung,
Of turneys, and of trophies hung,
Of forests, and enchantments drear,
Where more is meant than meets the ear. 120
Thus, Night, oft see me in thy pale career,
Till civil-suited Morn appear,
Not tricked and frounced, as she was wont
With the Attic boy to hunt,
But kerchieft in a comely cloud, 125
While rocking winds are piping loud
Or ushered with a shower still,
When the gust hath blown his fill,
Ending on the rustling leaves,
With minute-drops from off the eaves. 130
And, when the sun begins to fling
His flaring beams, me, Goddess, bring
To arched walks of twilight groves,
And shadows brown, that Sylvan loves,
Of pine, or monumental oak, 135
Where the rude axe with heaved stroke
Was never heard the nymphs to daunt,
Or fright them from their hallowed haunt.
There, in close covert, by some brook,
Where no profaner eye may look, 140
Hide me from day's garish eye,
While the bee with honeyed thigh,
That at her flowery work doth sing,
And the waters murmuring,
With such consort as they keep, 145
Entice the dewy-feathered Sleep.
And let some strange mysterious dream
Wave at his wings, in airy stream
Of lively portraiture displayed,
Softly on my eyelids laid; 150
And, as I wake, sweet music breathe
Above, about, or underneath,
Sent by some Spirit to mortals good,
Or the unseen Genius of the wood.
But let my due feet never fail 155
To walk the studious cloister's pale,
And love the high embowed roof,
With antique pillars massy-proof,
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light. 160
There let the pealing organ blow,
To the full-voiced quire below,
In service high and anthems clear,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into ecstasies, 165
And bring all Heaven before mine eyes.
And may at last my weary age
Find out the peaceful hermitage,
The hairy gown and mossy cell,
Where I may sit and rightly spell 170
Of every star that heaven doth shew,
And every herb that sips the dew,
Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain.
These pleasures, Melancholy, give; 175
And I with thee will choose to live.
Part of an Entertainment presented to the Countess Dowager of Derby at
Harefield by some Noble Persons of her Family; who appear on the Scene in
pastoral habit, moving toward the seat of state, with this song:--
Look, Nymphs and Shepherds, look!
What sudden blaze of majesty
Is that which we from hence descry,
Too divine to be mistook?
This, this is she 5
To whom our vows and wishes bend:
Here our solemn search hath end.
Fame, that her high worth to raise
Seemed erst so lavish and profuse,
We may justly now accuse 10
Of detraction from her praise:
Less than half we find expressed;
Envy bid conceal the rest.
Mark what radiant state she spreads,
In circle round her shining throne 15
Shooting her beams like silver threads:
This, this is she alone,
Sitting like a goddess bright
In the centre of her light.
Might she the wise Latona be, 20
Or the towered Cybele,
Mother of a hundred gods?
Juno dares not give her odds:
Who had thought this clime had held
A deity so unparalleled? 25
As they come forward, the Genius of the Wood appears,
and, turning toward them, speaks.
Gen. Stay, gentle Swains, for, though in this disguise,
I see bright honor sparkle through your eyes;
Of famous Arcady ye are, and sprung
Of that renowned flood, so often sung,
Divine Alpheus, who, by secret sluice, 30
Stole under seas to meet his Arethuse;
And ye, the breathing roses of the wood,
Fair silver-buskined Nymphs, as great and good.
I know this quest of yours and free intent
Was all in honor and devotion meant 35
To the great mistress of yon princely shrine,
Whom with low reverence I adore as mine,
And with all helpful service will comply
To further this night's glad solemnity,
And lead ye where ye may more near behold 40
What shallow-searching Fame hath left untold;
Which I full oft, amidst those shades alone,
Have sat to wonder at, and gaze upon.
For know, by lot from Jove, I am the Power
Of this fair wood, and live in oaken bower, 45
To nurse the saplings tall, and curl the grove
With ringlets quaint and wanton windings wove;
And all my plants I save from nightly ill
Of noisome winds and blasting vapors chill;
And from the boughs brush off the evil dew, 50
And heal the harms of thwarting thunder blue,
Or what the cross dire-looking planet smites,
Or hurtful worm with cankered venom bites.
When evening gray doth rise, I fetch my round
Over the mount, and all this hallowed ground; 55
And early, ere the odorous breath of morn
Awakes the slumbering leaves, or tasselled horn
Shakes the high thicket, haste I all about,
Number my ranks, and visit every sprout
With puissant words and murmurs made to bless. 60
But else, in deep of night, when drowsiness
Hath locked up mortal sense, then listen I
To the celestial Sirens' harmony,
That sit upon the nine infolded spheres,
And sing to those that hold the vital shears, 65
And turn the adamantine spindle round
On which the fate of gods and men is wound.
Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie,
To lull the daughters of Necessity,
And keep unsteady Nature to her law, 70
And the low world in measured motion draw
After the heavenly tune, which none can hear
Of human mould with gross unpurged ear.
And yet such music worthiest were to blaze
The peerless height of her immortal praise 75
Whose lustre leads us, and for her most fit,
If my inferior hand or voice could hit
Inimitable sounds. Yet, as we go,
Whate'er the skill of lesser gods can show
I will assay, her worth to celebrate, 80
And so attend ye toward her glittering state;
Where ye may all, that are of noble stem,
Approach, and kiss her sacred vesture's hem.
O'er the smooth enamelled green,
Where no print of step hath been, 85
Follow me, as I sing
And touch the warbled string:
Under the shady roof
Of branching elm star-proof
Follow me. 90
I will bring you where she sits,
Clad in splendor as befits
Such a rural Queen
All Arcadia hath not seen. 95
Nymphs and Shepherds, dance no more
By sandy Ladon's lilied banks;
On old Lycæus, or Cyllene hoar,
Trip no more in twilight ranks;
Though Erymanth your loss deplore, 100
A better soil shall give ye thanks.
From the stony Mænalus
Bring your flocks, and live with us;
Here ye shall have greater grace,
To serve the Lady of this place. 105
Though Syrinx your Pan's mistress were,
Yet Syrinx well might wait on her.
Such a rural Queen
All Arcadia hath not seen.
AT A SOLEMN MUSIC.
Blest pair of Sirens, pledges of Heaven's joy,
Sphere-born harmonious sisters, Voice and Verse,
Wed your divine sounds, and mixed power employ,
Dead things with inbreathed sense able to pierce;
And to our high-raised phantasy present 5
That undisturbed song of pure concent,
Aye sung before the sapphire-colored throne
To Him that sits thereon,
With saintly shout and solemn jubilee;
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row 10
Their loud uplifted angel-trumpets blow,
And the Cherubic host in thousand quires
Touch their immortal harps of golden wires,
With those just Spirits that wear victorious palms,
Hymns devout and holy psalms 15
That we on Earth, with undiscording voice,
May rightly answer that melodious noise;
As once we did, till disproportioned sin
Jarred against nature's chime, and with harsh din 20
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion swayed
In perfect diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.
O, may we soon again renew that song, 25
And keep in tune with Heaven, till God ere long
To his celestial consort us unite,
To live with Him, and sing in endless morn of light!
A MASQUE PRESENTED AT LUDLOW CASTLE, 1634.
The Attendant Spirit, afterwards in the habit of Thyrsis.
Comus, with his Crew.
Sabrina, the Nymph.
The first Scene discovers a wild wood.
The Attendant Spirit descends or enters.
Spirit. Before the starry threshold of Jove's court
My mansion is, where those immortal shapes
Of bright aerial spirits live insphered
In regions mild of calm and serene air,
Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot 5
Which men call Earth, and, with low-thoughted care,
Confined and pestered in this pinfold here,
Strive to keep up a frail and feverish being,
Unmindful of the crown that Virtue gives,
After this mortal change, to her true servants 10
Amongst the enthroned gods on sainted seats.
Yet some there be that by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on that golden key
That opes the palace of eternity.
To such my errand is; and, but for such, 15
I would not soil these pure ambrosial weeds
With the rank vapors of this sin-worn mould.
But to my task. Neptune, besides the sway
Of every salt flood and each ebbing stream
Took in, by lot 'twixt high and nether Jove. 20
Imperial rule of all the sea-girt isles
That, like to rich and various gems, inlay
The unadorned bosom of the deep;
Which he, to grace his tributary gods,
By course commits to several government, 25
And gives them leave to wear their sapphire crowns
And wield their little tridents. But this Isle,
The greatest and the best of all the main,
He quarters to his blue-haired deities;
And all this tract that fronts the falling sun 30
A noble Peer of mickle trust and power
Has in his charge, with tempered awe to guide
An old and haughty nation, proud in arms:
Where his fair offspring, nursed in princely lore,
Are coming to attend their father's state, 35
And new-intrusted sceptre. But their way
Lies through the perplexed paths of this drear wood,
The nodding horror of those shady brows
Threats the forlorn and wandering passenger;
And here their tender age might suffer peril, 40
But that, by quick command from sovran Jove,
I was despatched for their defence and guard!
And listen why; for I will tell you now
What never yet was heard in tale or song,
From old or modern bard, in hall or bower. 45
Bacchus, that first from out the purple grape
Crushed the sweet poison of misused wine,
After the Tuscan mariners transformed,
Coasting the Tyrrhene shore, as the winds listed,
On Circe's island fell. (Who knows not Circe, 50
The daughter of the Sun, whose charmed cup
Whoever tasted lost his upright shape,
And downward fell into a grovelling swine?)
This Nymph, that gazed upon his clustering locks,
With ivy berries wreathed, and his blithe youth, 55
Had by him, ere he parted thence, a son
Much like his father, but his mother more,
Whom therefore she brought up, and Comus named:
Who, ripe and frolic of his full-grown age,
Roving the Celtic and Iberian fields, 60
At last betakes him to this ominous wood,
And, in thick shelter of black shades imbowered,
Excels his mother at her mighty art;
Offering to every weary traveller
His orient liquor in a crystal glass, 65
To quench the drouth of Phoebus; which as they taste
(For most do taste through fond intemperate thirst),
Soon as the potion works, their human count'nance,
The express resemblance of the gods, is changed
Into some brutish form of wolf or bear, 70
Or ounce or tiger, hog, or bearded goat,
All other parts remaining as they were.
And they, so perfect in their misery,
Not once perceive their foul disfigurement,
But boast themselves more comely than before, 75
And all their friends and native home forget,
To roll with pleasure in a sensual sty.
Therefore, when any favored of high Jove
Chances to pass through this adventurous glade,
Swift as the sparkle of a glancing star 80
I shoot from heaven, to give him safe convoy,
As now I do. But first I must put off
These my sky-robes, spun out of Iris' woof,
And take the weeds and likeness of a swain
That to the service of this house belongs, 85
Who, with his soft pipe and smooth-dittied song,
Well knows to still the wild winds when they roar,
And hush the waving woods; nor of less faith,
And in this office of his mountain watch
Likeliest, and nearest to the present aid 90
Of this occasion. But I hear the tread
Of hateful steps; I must be viewless now.
Comus enters, with a charming-rod in one hand, his glass in the other;
with him a rout of monsters, headed like sundry sorts of wild beasts, but
otherwise like men and women, their apparel glistering. They come in
making a riotous and unruly noise, with torches in their hands.
Comus. The star that bids the shepherd fold
Now the top of heaven doth hold;
And the gilded car of day 95
His glowing axle doth allay
In the steep Atlantic stream:
And the slope sun his upward beam
Shoots against the dusky pole,
Pacing toward the other goal 100
Of his chamber in the east.
Meanwhile, welcome joy and feast,
Midnight shout and revelry,
Tipsy dance and jollity.
Braid your locks with rosy twine, 105
Dropping odors, dropping wine.
Rigor now is gone to bed;
And Advice with scrupulous head,
Strict Age, and sour Severity,
With their grave saws, in slumber lie. 110
We, that are of purer fire,
Imitate the starry quire,
Who, in their nightly watchful spheres,
Lead in swift round the months and years.
The sounds and seas, with all their finny drove, 115
Now to the moon in wavering morrice move;
And on the tawny sands and shelves
Trip the pert fairies and the dapper elves.
By dimpled brook and fountain-brim,
The wood-nymphs, decked with daisies trim, 120
Their merry wakes and pastimes keep:
What hath night to do with sleep?
Night hath better sweets to prove;
Venus now wakes, and wakens Love.
Come, let us our rites begin; 125
'Tis only daylight that makes sin,
Which these dun shades will ne'er report.
Hail, goddess of nocturnal sport,
Dark-veiled Cotytto, to whom the secret flame
Of midnight torches burns! mysterious dame, 130
That ne'er art called but when the dragon womb
Of Stygian darkness spets her thickest gloom,
And makes one blot of all the air!
Stay thy cloudy ebon chair,
Wherein thou ridest with Hecat', and befriend 135
Us thy vowed priests, till utmost end
Of all thy dues be done, and none left out
Ere the blabbing eastern scout,
The nice Morn on the Indian steep,
From her cabined loop-hole peep, 140
And to the tell-tale Sun descry
Our concealed solemnity.
Come, knit hands, and beat the ground
In a light fantastic round.
Break off, break off! I feel the different pace 145
Of some chaste footing near about this ground.
Run to your shrouds within these brakes and trees;
Our number may affright. Some virgin sure
(For so I can distinguish by mine art)
Benighted in these woods! Now to my charms, 150
And to my wily trains: I shall ere long
Be well stocked with as fair a herd as grazed
About my mother Circe. Thus I hurl
My dazzling spells into the spongy air,
Of power to cheat the eye with blear illusion, 155
And give it false presentments, lest the place
And my quaint habits breed astonishment,
And put the damsel to suspicious flight;
Which must not be, for that's against my course.
I, under fair pretence of friendly ends, 160
And well-placed words of glozing courtesy,
Baited with reasons not unplausible,
Wind me into the easy-hearted man,
And hug him into snares. When once her eye
Hath met the virtue of this magic dust 165
I shall appear some harmless villager,
Whom thrift keeps up about his country gear.
But here she comes; I fairly step aside,
And hearken, if I may her business hear.
The Lady enters.
Lady. This way the noise was, if mine ear be true, 170
My best guide now. Methought it was the sound
Of riot and ill-managed merriment,
Such as the jocund flute or gamesome pipe
Stirs up among the loose unlettered hinds,
When, for their teeming flocks and granges full, 175
In wanton dance they praise the bounteous Pan,
And thank the gods amiss. I should be loth
To meet the rudeness and swilled insolence
Of such late wassailers; yet, oh! where else
Shall I inform my unacquainted feet 180
In the blind mazes of this tangled wood?
My brothers, when they saw me wearied out
With this long way, resolving here to lodge
Under the spreading favor of these pines,
Stepped, as they said, to the next thicket-side 185
To bring me berries, or such cooling fruit
As the kind hospitable woods provide.
They left me then when the gray-hooded Even,
Like a sad votarist in palmer's weed,
Rose from the hindmost wheels of Phoebus' wain. 190
But where they are, and why they came not back,
Is now the labor of my thoughts. 'Tis likeliest
They had engaged their wandering steps too far;
And envious darkness, ere they could return,
Had stole them from me. Else, O thievish Night, 195
Why shouldst thou, but for some felonious end,
In thy dark lantern thus close up the stars
That Nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps
With everlasting oil, to give due light
To the misled and lonely traveller? 200
This is the place, as well as I may guess,
Whence even now the tumult of loud mirth
Was rife, and perfect in my listening ear;
Yet nought but single darkness do I find.
What might this be? A thousand fantasies 205
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire,
And airy tongues that syllable men's names
On sands and shores and desert wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well, but not astound 210
The virtuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion, Conscience.
O, welcome, pure-eyed Faith, white-handed Hope,
Thou hovering angel girt with golden wings,
And thou unblemished form of Chastity! 215
I see thee visibly, and now believe
That He, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glistering guardian, if need were,
To keep my life and honor unassailed.... 220
Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err: there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove. 225
I cannot hallo to my brothers, but
Such noise as I can make to be heard farthest
I'll venture; for my new-enlivened spirits
Prompt me, and they perhaps are not far off.
Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph, that liv'st unseen 230
Within thy airy shell
By slow Meander's margent green,
And in the violet-embroidered vale
Where the love-lorn nightingale
Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well: 235
Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
That likest thy Narcissus are?
O, if thou have
Hid them in some flowery cave,
Tell me but where, 240
Sweet Queen of Parley, Daughter of the Sphere!
So may'st thou be translated to the skies,
And give resounding grace to all Heaven's harmonies!
Comus. Can any mortal mixture of earth's mould
Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment? 245
Sure something holy lodges in that breast,
And with these raptures moves the vocal air
To testify his hidden residence.
How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence, through the empty-vaulted night, 250
At every fall smoothing the raven down
Of darkness till it smiled! I have oft heard
My mother Circe with the Sirens three,
Amidst the flowery-kirtled Naiades,
Culling their potent herbs and baleful drugs, 255
Who, as they sung, would take the prisoned soul,
And lap it in Elysium: Scylla wept,
And chid her barking waves into attention,
And fell Charybdis murmured soft applause.
Yet they in pleasing slumber lulled the sense, 260
And in sweet madness robbed it of itself;
But such a sacred and home-felt delight,
Such sober certainty of waking bliss,
I never heard till now. I'll speak to her,
And she shall be my queen.--Hail, foreign wonder! 265
Whom certain these rough shades did never breed,
Unless the goddess that in rural shrine
Dwell'st here with Pan or Sylvan, by blest song
Forbidding every bleak unkindly fog
To touch the prosperous growth of this tall wood. 270
Lady. Nay, gentle shepherd, ill is lost that praise
That is addressed to unattending ears.
Not any boast of skill, but extreme shift
How to regain my severed company,
Compelled me to awake the courteous Echo 275
To give me answer from her mossy couch.
Comus. What chance, good Lady, hath bereft you thus?
Lady. Dim darkness and this leavy labyrinth.
Comus. Could that divide you from near-ushering guides?
Lady. They left me weary on a grassy turf. 280
Comus. By falsehood, or discourtesy, or why?
Lady. To seek i' the valley some cool friendly spring.
Comus. And left your fair side all unguarded, Lady?
Lady. They were but twain, and purposed quick return.
Comus. Perhaps forestalling night prevented them. 285
Lady. How easy my misfortune is to hit!
Comus. Imports their loss, beside the present need?
Lady. No less than if I should my brothers lose.
Comus. Were they of manly prime, or youthful bloom?
Lady. As smooth as Hebe's their unrazored lips. 290
Comus. Two such I saw, what time the labored ox
In his loose traces from the furrow came,
And the swinked hedger at his supper sat.
I saw them under a green mantling vine,
That crawls along the side of yon small hill, 295
Plucking ripe clusters from the tender shoots;
Their port was more than human, as they stood.
I took it for a faery vision
Of some gay creatures of the element,
That in the colors of the rainbow live, 300
And play i' the plighted clouds. I was awe-strook,
And, as I passed, I worshiped. If those you seek,
It were a journey like the path to Heaven
To help you find them.
Lady. Gentle villager,
What readiest way would bring me to that place? 305
Comus. Due west it rises from this shrubby point.
Lady. To find out that, good shepherd, I suppose,
In such a scant allowance of star-light,
Would overtask the best land-pilot's art,
Without the sure guess of well-practised feet. 310
Comus. I know each lane, and every alley green,
Dingle, or bushy dell, of this wild wood,
And every bosky bourn from side to side,
My daily walks and ancient neighborhood;
And, if your stray attendance be yet lodged, 315
Or shroud within these limits, I shall know
Ere morrow wake, or the low-roosted lark
From her thatched pallet rouse. If otherwise,
I can conduct you, Lady, to a low
But loyal cottage, where you may be safe 320
Till further quest.
Lady. Shepherd, I take thy word,
And trust thy honest-offered courtesy,
Which oft is sooner found in lowly sheds,
With smoky rafters, than in tapestry halls
And courts of princes, where it first was named, 325
And yet is most pretended. In a place
Less warranted than this, or less secure,
I cannot be, that I should fear to change it.
Eye me, blest Providence, and square my trial
To my proportioned strength! Shepherd, lead on.... 330
The Two Brothers.
Eld. Bro. Unmuffle, ye faint stars; and thou, fair moon,
That wont'st to love the traveller's benison,
Stoop thy pale visage through an amber cloud,
And disinherit Chaos, that reigns here
In double night of darkness and of shades; 335
Or, if your influence be quite dammed up
With black usurping mists, some gentle taper,
Though a rush-candle from the wicker hole
Of some clay habitation, visit us
With thy long levelled rule of streaming light, 340
And thou shalt be our star of Arcady,
Or Tyrian Cynosure.
Sec. Bro. Or, if our eyes
Be barred that happiness, might we but hear
The folded flocks, penned in their wattled cotes,
Or sound of pastoral reed with oaten stops, 345
Or whistle from the lodge, or village cock
Count the night-watches to his feathery dames,
'Twould be some solace yet, some little cheering,
In this close dungeon of innumerous boughs.
But, Oh, that hapless virgin, our lost sister! 350
Where may she wander now, whither betake her
From the chill dew, amongst rude burs and thistles?
Perhaps some cold bank is her bolster now,
Or 'gainst the rugged bark of some broad elm
Leans her unpillowed head, fraught with sad fears. 355
What if in wild amazement and affright,
Or, while we speak, within the direful grasp
Of savage hunger, or of savage heat!
Eld. Bro. Peace, brother: be not over-exquisite
To cast the fashion of uncertain evils; 360
For, grant they be so, while they rest unknown,
What need a man forestall his date of grief,
And run to meet what he would most avoid?
Or, if they be but false alarms of fear,
How bitter is such self-delusion! 365
I do not think my sister so to seek,
Or so unprincipled in virtue's book,
And the sweet peace that goodness bosoms ever,
As that the single want of light and noise
(Not being in danger, as I trust she is not) 370
Could stir the constant mood of her calm thoughts,
And put them into misbecoming plight.
Virtue could see to do what Virtue would
By her own radiant light, though sun and moon
Were in the flat sea sunk. And Wisdom's self 375
Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude,
Where, with her best nurse, Contemplation,
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings,
That, in the various bustle of resort,
Were all to-ruffled, and sometimes impaired. 380
He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit i' the centre, and enjoy bright day:
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.
Sec. Bro. 'Tis most true 385
That musing Meditation most affects
The pensive secrecy of desert cell,
Far from the cheerful haunt of men and herds,
And sits as safe as in a senate-house;
For who would rob a hermit of his weeds, 390
His few books, or his beads, or maple dish,
Or do his gray hairs any violence?
But Beauty, like the fair Hesperian tree
Laden with blooming gold, had need the guard
Of dragon-watch with unenchanted eye 395
To save her blossoms, and defend her fruit,
From the rash hand of bold Incontinence.
You may as well spread out the unsunned heaps
Of miser's treasure by an outlaw's den,
And tell me it is safe, as bid me hope 400
Danger will wink on Opportunity,
And let a single helpless maiden pass
Uninjured in this wild surrounding waste.
Of night or loneliness it recks me not;
I fear the dread events that dog them both, 405
Lest some ill-greeting touch attempt the person
Of our unowned sister.
Eld. Bro. I do not, brother,
Infer as if I thought my sister's state
Secure without all doubt or controversy;
Yet, where an equal poise of hope and fear 410
Does arbitrate the event, my nature is
That I incline to hope rather than fear,
And gladly banish squint suspicion.
My sister is not so defenceless left
As you imagine; she has a hidden strength, 415
Which you remember not.
Sec. Bro. What hidden strength,
Unless the strength of Heaven, if you mean that?
Eld. Bro. I mean that too, but yet a hidden strength,
Which, if Heaven gave it, may be termed her own.
'Tis chastity, my brother, chastity: 420
She that has that is clad in complete steel,
And, like a quivered nymph with arrows keen,
May trace huge forests, and unharbored heaths,
Infamous hills, and sandy perilous wilds;
Where, through the sacred rays of chastity, 425
No savage fierce, bandite, or mountaineer,
Will dare to soil her virgin purity.
Yea, there where very desolation dwells,
By grots and caverns shagged with horrid shades,
She may pass on with unblenched majesty, 430
Be it not done in pride, or in presumption.
Some say no evil thing that walks by night,
In fog or fire, by lake or moorish fen,
Blue meagre hag, or stubborn unlaid ghost,
That breaks his magic chains at curfew time, 435
No goblin or swart faery of the mine,
Hath hurtful power o'er true virginity.
Do ye believe me yet, or shall I call
Antiquity from the old schools of Greece
To testify the arms of chastity? 440
Hence had the huntress Dian her dread bow,
Fair silver-shafted queen forever chaste,
Wherewith she tamed the brinded lioness
And spotted mountain-pard, but set at nought
The frivolous bolt of Cupid; gods and men 445
Feared her stern frown, and she was queen o' the woods.
What was that snaky-headed Gorgon shield
That wise Minerva wore, unconquered virgin,
Wherewith she freezed her foes to congealed stone,
But rigid looks of chaste austerity, 450
And noble grace that dashed brute violence
With sudden adoration and blank awe?
So dear to Heaven is saintly chastity
That, when a soul is found sincerely so,
A thousand liveried angels lackey her, 455
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt,
And in clear dream and solemn vision
Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear;
Till oft converse with heavenly habitants
Begin to cast a beam on the outward shape, 460
The unpolluted temple of the mind,
And turns it by degrees to the soul's essence,
Till all be made immortal. But, when lust,
By unchaste looks, loose gestures, and foul talk,
But most by lewd and lavish act of sin, 465
Lets in defilement to the inward parts,
The soul grows clotted by contagion,
Imbodies, and imbrutes, till she quite lose
The divine property of her first being.
Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp 470
Oft seen in charnel-vaults and sepulchres,
Lingering and sitting by a new-made grave,
As loth to leave the body that it loved,
And linked itself by carnal sensualty
To a degenerate and degraded state. 475
Sec. Bro. How charming is divine Philosophy!
Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo's lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns.
Eld. Bro. List! list! I hear 480
Some far-off hallo break the silent air.
Sec. Bro. Methought so too; what should it be?
Eld. Bro. For certain,
Either some one, like us, night-foundered here,
Or else some neighbor woodman, or, at worst,
Some roving robber calling to his fellows. 485
Sec. Bro. Heaven help my sister! Again, again, and near!
Best draw, and stand upon our guard.
Eld. Bro. I'll hallo.
If he be friendly, he comes well: if not,
Defence is a good cause, and Heaven be for us!
The Attendant Spirit, habited like a shepherd.
That hallo I should know. What are you? speak. 490
Come not too near; you fall on iron stakes else.
Spir. What voice is that? my young lord? speak again.
Sec. Bro. O brother, 'tis my father's Shepherd, sure.
Eld. Bro. Thyrsis! whose artful strains have oft delayed
The huddling brook to hear his madrigal, 495
And sweetened every musk-rose of the dale.
How camest thou here, good swain? Hath any ram
Slipped from the fold, or young kid lost his dam,
Or straggling wether the pent flock forsook?
How could'st thou find this dark sequestered nook? 500
Spir. O my loved master's heir, and his next joy,
I came not here on such a trivial toy
As a strayed ewe, or to pursue the stealth
Of pilfering wolf; not all the fleecy wealth
That doth enrich these downs is worth a thought 505
To this my errand, and the care it brought.
But, oh! my virgin Lady, where is she?
How chance she is not in your company?
Eld. Bro. To tell thee sadly, Shepherd, without blame
Or our neglect, we lost her as we came. 510
Spir. Ay me unhappy! then my fears are true.
Eld. Bro. What fears, good Thyrsis? Prithee briefly shew.
Spir. I'll tell ye. 'Tis not vain or fabulous
(Though so esteemed by shallow ignorance)
What the sage poets, taught by the heavenly Muse, 515
Storied of old in high immortal verse
Of dire Chimeras and enchanted isles,
And rifted rocks whose entrance leads to Hell;
For such there be, but unbelief is blind.
Within the navel of this hideous wood, 520
Immured in cypress shades, a sorcerer dwells,
Of Bacchus and of Circe born, great Comus,
Deep skilled in all his mother's witcheries,
And here to every thirsty wanderer
By sly enticement gives his baneful cup, 525
With many murmurs mixed, whose pleasing poison
The visage quite transforms of him that drinks,
And the inglorious likeness of a beast
Fixes instead, unmoulding reason's mintage
Charactered in the face. This have I learnt 530
Tending my flocks hard by i' the hilly crofts
That brow this bottom glade; whence night by night
He and his monstrous rout are heard to howl
Like stabled wolves, or tigers at their prey,
Doing abhorred rites to Hecate 535
In their obscurèd haunts of inmost bowers.
Yet have they many baits and guileful spells
To inveigle and invite the unwary sense
Of them that pass unweeting by the way.
This evening late, by then the chewing flocks 540
Had ta'en their supper on the savory herb
Of knot-grass dew-besprent, and were in fold,
I sat me down to watch upon a bank
With ivy canopied, and interwove
With flaunting honeysuckle, and began, 545
Wrapt in a pleasing fit of melancholy,
To meditate my rural minstrelsy,
Till fancy had her fill. But ere a close
The wonted roar was up amidst the woods,
And filled the air with barbarous dissonance; 550
At which I ceased, and listened them a while,
Till an unusual stop of sudden silence
Gave respite to the drowsy-flighted steeds
That draw the litter of close-curtained Sleep.
At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound 555
Rose like a steam of rich distilled perfumes,
And stole upon the air, that even Silence
Was took ere she was ware, and wished she might
Deny her nature, and be never more,
Still to be so displaced. I was all ear, 560
And took in strains that might create a soul
Under the ribs of Death. But, oh! ere long
Too well I did perceive it was the voice
Of my most honored Lady, your dear sister.
Amazed I stood, harrowed with grief and fear; 565
And 'O poor hapless nightingale,' thought I,
'How sweet thou sing'st, how near the deadly snare!'
Then down the lawns I ran with headlong haste,
Through paths and turnings often trod by day,
Till, guided by mine ear, I found the place 570
Where that damned wizard, hid in sly disguise
(For so by certain signs I knew), had met
Already, ere my best speed could prevent,
The aidless innocent lady, his wished prey;
Who gently asked if he had seen such two, 575
Supposing him some neighbor villager.
Longer I durst not stay, but soon I guessed
Ye were the two she meant; with that I sprung
Into swift flight, till I had found you here;
But further know I not.
Sec. Bro. O night and shades, 580
How are ye joined with hell in triple knot
Against the unarmed weakness of one virgin,
Alone and helpless! Is this the confidence
You gave me, brother?
Eld. Bro. Yes, and keep it still;
Lean on it safely; not a period 585
Shall be unsaid for me. Against the threats
Of malice or of sorcery, or that power
Which erring men call Chance, this I hold firm:
Virtue may be assailed, but never hurt,
Surprised by unjust force, but not enthralled; 590
Yea, even that which Mischief meant most harm
Shall in the happy trial prove most glory.
But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness, when at last,
Gathered like scum, and settled to itself, 595
It shall be in eternal restless change
Self-fed and self-consumed. If this fail,
The pillared firmament is rottenness,
And earth's base built on stubble. But come, let's on!
Against the opposing will and arm of Heaven 600
May never this just sword be lifted up;
But for that damned magician, let him be girt
With all the griesly legions that troop
Under the sooty flag of Acheron,
Harpies and Hydras, or all the monstrous forms 605
'Twixt Africa and Ind, I'll find him out,
And force him to return his purchase back,
Or drag him by the curls to a foul death,
Cursed as his life.
Spir. Alas! good venturous youth,
I love thy courage yet, and bold emprise; 610
But here thy sword can do thee little stead.
Far other arms and other weapons must
Be those that quell the might of hellish charms.
He with his bare wand can unthread thy joints,
And crumble all thy sinews.
Eld. Bro. Why, prithee, Shepherd, 615
How durst thou then thyself approach so near
As to make this relation?
Spir. Care and utmost shifts
How to secure the Lady from surprisal
Brought to my mind a certain shepherd lad,
Of small regard to see to, yet well skilled 620
In every virtuous plant and healing herb
That spreads her verdant leaf to the morning ray.
He loved me well, and oft would beg me sing;
Which when I did, he on the tender grass
Would sit, and hearken even to ecstasy, 625
And in requital ope his leathern scrip,
And show me simples of a thousand names,
Telling their strange and vigorous faculties.
Amongst the rest a small unsightly root,
But of divine effect, he culled me out. 630
The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it,
But in another country, as he said,
Bore a bright golden flower, but not in this soil:
Unknown, and like esteemed, and the dull swain
Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon; 635
And yet more med'cinal is it than that Moly
That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave.
He called it Hæmony, and gave it me,
And bade me keep it as of sovran use
'Gainst all enchantments, mildew blast, or damp, 640
Or ghastly Furies' apparition.
I pursed it up, but little reckoning made,
Till now that this extremity compelled.
But now I find it true; for by this means
I knew the foul enchanter, though disguised, 645
Entered the very lime-twigs of his spells,
And yet came off. If you have this about you
(As I will give you when we go) you may
Boldly assault the necromancer's hall;
Where if he be, with dauntless hardihood 650
And brandished blade rush on him: break his glass,
And shed the luscious liquor on the ground;
But seize his wand. Though he and his curst crew
Fierce sign of battle make, and menace high,
Or, like the sons of Vulcan, vomit smoke, 655
Yet will they soon retire, if he but shrink.
Eld. Bro. Thyrsis, lead on apace; I'll follow thee;
And some good angel bear a shield before us!
The Scene changes to a stately palace, set out with all manner of
deliciousness: soft music, tables spread with all dainties. Comus appears
with his rabble, and the Lady set in an enchanted chair: to whom he
offers his glass; which she puts by, and goes about to rise.
Comus. Nay, Lady, sit. If I but wave this wand,
Your nerves are all chained up in alabaster, 660
And you a statue, or as Daphne was,
Root-bound, that fled Apollo.
Lady. Fool, do not boast.
Thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind
With all thy charms, although this corporal rind
Thou hast immanacled while Heaven sees good. 665
Comus. Why are you vexed, Lady? why do you frown?
Here dwell no frowns, nor anger; from these gates
Sorrow flies far. See, here be all the pleasures
That fancy can beget on youthful thoughts,
When the fresh blood grows lively, and returns 670
Brisk as the April buds in primrose season.
And first behold this cordial julep here,
That flames and dances in his crystal bounds,
With spirits of balm and fragrant syrups mixed.
Not that Nepenthes which the wife of Thone 675
In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena
Is of such power to stir up joy as this,
To life so friendly, or so cool to thirst.
Why should you be so cruel to yourself,
And to those dainty limbs, which Nature lent 680
For gentle usage and soft delicacy?
But you invert the covenants of her trust,
And harshly deal, like an ill borrower,
With that which you received on other terms,
Scorning the unexempt condition 685
By which all mortal frailty must subsist,
Refreshment after toil, ease after pain,
That have been tired all day without repast,
And timely rest have wanted. But, fair virgin,
This will restore all soon.
Lady. 'Twill not, false traitor! 690
'Twill not restore the truth and honesty
That thou hast banished from thy tongue with lies.
Was this the cottage and the safe abode
Thou told'st me of? What grim aspects are these,
These oughly-headed monsters? Mercy guard me! 695
Hence with thy brewed enchantments, foul deceiver!
Hast thou betrayed my credulous innocence
With vizored falsehood and base forgery?
And wouldst thou seek again to trap me here
With liquorish baits, fit to ensnare a brute? 700
Were it a draught for Juno when she banquets,
I would not taste thy treasonous offer. None
But such as are good men can give good things;
And that which is not good is not delicious
To a well-governed and wise appetite. 705
Comus. O foolishness of men! that lend their ears
To those budge doctors of the stoic fur,
And fetch their precepts from the Cynic tub,
Praising the lean and sallow Abstinence!
Wherefore did Nature pour her bounties forth 710
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,
Covering the earth with odors, fruits, and flocks,
Thronging the seas with spawn innumerable,
But all to please and sate the curious taste?
And set to work millions of spinning worms, 715
That in their green shops weave the smooth-haired silk,
To deck her sons; and, that no corner might
Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins
She hutched the all-worshipped ore and precious gems,
To store her children with. If all the world 720
Should, in a fit of temperance, feed on pulse,
Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but frieze,
The All-giver would be unthanked, would be unpraised,
Not half his riches known, and yet despised;
And we should serve him as a grudging master, 725
As a penurious niggard of his wealth,
And live like Nature's bastards, not her sons,
Who would be quite surcharged with her own weight,
And strangled with her waste fertility:
The earth cumbered, and the winged air darked with plumes, 730
The herds would over-multitude their lords;
The sea o'erfraught would swell, and the unsought diamonds
Would so emblaze the forehead of the deep,
And so bestud with stars, that they below
Would grow inured to light, and come at last 735
To gaze upon the sun with shameless brows.
List, Lady; be not coy, and be not cozened
With that same vaunted name, Virginity.
Beauty is Nature's coin; must not be hoarded,
But must be current; and the good thereof 740
Consists in mutual and partaken bliss,
Unsavory in the enjoyment of itself.
If you let slip time, like a neglected rose
It withers on the stalk with languished head.
Beauty is Nature's brag, and must be shown 745
In courts, at feasts, and high solemnities,
Where most may wonder at the workmanship.
It is for homely features to keep home;
They had their name thence: coarse complexions
And cheeks of sorry grain will serve to ply 750
The sampler, and to tease the huswife's wool.
What need a vermeil-tinctured lip for that,
Love-darting eyes, or tresses like the morn?
There was another meaning in these gifts;
Think what, and be advised; you are but young yet. 755
Lady. I had not thought to have unlocked my lips
In this unhallowed air, but that this juggler
Would think to charm my judgment, as mine eyes,
Obtruding false rules pranked in reason's garb.
I hate when vice can bolt her arguments 760
And virtue has no tongue to check her pride.
Impostor! do not charge most innocent Nature,
As if she would her children should be riotous
With her abundance. She, good cateress,
Means her provision only to the good, 765
That live according to her sober laws,
And holy dictate of spare Temperance.
If every just man that now pines with want
Had but a moderate and beseeming share
Of that which lewdly-pampered Luxury 770
Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,
Nature's full blessings would be well-dispensed
In unsuperfluous even proportion,
And she no whit encumbered with her store;
And then the Giver would be better thanked, 775
His praise due paid: for swinish gluttony
Ne'er looks to Heaven amidst his gorgeous feast,
But with besotted base ingratitude
Crams, and blasphemes his Feeder. Shall I go on?
Or have I said enow? To him that dares 780
Arm his profane tongue with contemptuous words
Against the sun-clad power of chastity
Fain would I something say;--yet to what end?
Thou hast nor ear, nor soul, to apprehend
The sublime notion and high mystery 785
That must be uttered to unfold the sage
And serious doctrine of Virginity;
And thou art worthy that thou shouldst not know
More happiness than this thy present lot.
Enjoy your dear wit, and gay rhetoric, 790
That hath so well been taught her dazzling fence;
Thou art not fit to hear thyself convinced.
Yet, should I try, the uncontrolled worth
Of this pure cause would kindle my rapt spirits
To such a flame of sacred vehemence 795
That dumb things would be moved to sympathize,
And the brute Earth would lend her nerves, and shake,
Till all thy magic structures, reared so high,
Were shattered into heaps o'er thy false head.
Comus. She fables not. I feel that I do fear 800
Her words set off by some superior power;
And, though not mortal, yet a cold shuddering dew
Dips me all o'er, as when the wrath of Jove
Speaks thunder and the chains of Erebus
To some of Saturn's crew. I must dissemble, 805
And try her yet more strongly,--Come, no more!
This is mere moral babble, and direct
Against the canon laws of our foundation.
I must not suffer this; yet 'tis but the lees
And settlings of a melancholy blood. 810
But this will cure all straight; one sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight
Beyond the bliss of dreams. Be wise, and taste....
The Brothers rush in with swords drawn, wrest his glass out of his hand,
and break it against the ground: his rout make sign of resistance, but
are all driven in. The Attendant Spirit comes in.
Spir. What! have you let the false enchanter scape?
O ye mistook; ye should have snatched his wand, 815
And bound him fast. Without his rod reversed,
And backward mutters of dissevering power,
We cannot free the Lady that sits here
In stony fetters fixed and motionless.
Yet stay: be not disturbed; now I bethink me, 820
Some other means I have which may be used,
Which once of Meliboeus old I learnt,
The soothest shepherd that e'er piped on plains.
There is a gentle Nymph not far from hence,
That with moist curb sways the smooth Severn stream: 825
Sabrina is her name: a virgin pure;
Whilom she was the daughter of Locrine,
That had the sceptre from his father Brute.
She, guiltless damsel, flying the mad pursuit
Of her enraged stepdame, Guendolen, 830
Commended her fair innocence to the flood
That stayed her flight with his cross-flowing course.
The water-nymphs, that in the bottom played,
Held up their pearled wrists, and took her in,
Bearing her straight to aged Nereus' hall; 835
Who, piteous of her woes, reared her lank head,
And gave her to his daughters to imbathe
In nectared lavers strewed with asphodel,
And through the porch and inlet of each sense
Dropt in ambrosial oils, till she revived, 840
And underwent a quick immortal change,
Made Goddess of the river. Still she retains
Her maiden gentleness, and oft at eve
Visits the herds along the twilight meadows,
Helping all urchin blasts, and ill-luck signs 845
That the shrewd meddling elf delights to make,
Which she with precious vialed liquors heals:
For which the shepherds, at their festivals,
Carol her goodness loud in rustic lays,
And throw sweet garland wreaths into her stream 850
Of pansies, pinks, and gaudy daffodils.
And, as the old swain said, she can unlock
The clasping charm, and thaw the numbing spell,
If she be right invoked in warbled song;
For maidenhood she loves, and will be swift 855
To aid a virgin, such as was herself,
In hard-besetting need. This will I try,
And add the power of some adjuring verse.
Listen where thou art sitting 860
Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,
In twisted braids of lilies knitting
The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair;
Listen for dear honor's sake,
Goddess of the silver lake, 865
Listen and save!
Listen, and appear to us,
In name of great Oceanus,
By the earth-shaking Neptune's mace,
And Tethys' grave majestic pace; 870
By hoary Nereus' wrinkled look,
And the Carpathian wizard's hook;
By scaly Triton's winding shell,
And old soothsaying Glaucus' spell;
By Leucothea's lovely hands, 875
And her son that rules the strands;
By Thetis' tinsel-slippered feet,
And the songs of Sirens sweet;
By dead Parthenope's dear tomb,
And fair Ligea's golden comb, 880
Wherewith she sits on diamond rocks
Sleeking her soft alluring locks;
By all the nymphs that nightly dance
Upon thy streams with wily glance;
Rise, rise, and heave thy rosy head 885
From thy coral-paven bed,
And bridle in thy headlong wave,
Till thou our summons answered have.
Listen and save!
Sabrina rises, attended by Water-nymphs, and sings.
By the rushy-fringed bank, 890
Where grow the willow and the osier dank,
My sliding chariot stays,
Thick set with agate, and the azurn sheen
Of turkis blue, and emerald green,
That in the channel strays: 895
Whilst from off the waters fleet
Thus I set my printless feet
O'er the cowslip's velvet head,
That bends not as I tread.
Gentle swain, at thy request 900
I am here!
Spir. Goddess dear,
We implore thy powerful hand
To undo the charmed band
Of true virgin here distressed 905
Through the force and through the wile
Of unblessed enchanter vile.
Sabr. Shepherd, 'tis my office best
To help ensnared chastity.
Brightest Lady, look on me. 910
Thus I sprinkle on thy breast
Drops that from my fountain pure
I have kept of precious cure;
Thrice upon thy finger's tip,
Thrice upon thy rubied lip: 915
Next this marble venomed seat,
Smeared with gums of glutinous heat,
I touch with chaste palms moist and cold.
Now the spell hath lost his hold,
And I must haste ere morning hour 920
To wait in Amphitrite's bower.
Sabrina descends, and the Lady rises out of her seat.
Spir. Virgin, daughter of Locrine,
Sprung of old Anchises' line,
May thy brimmed waves for this
Their full tribute never miss 925
From a thousand petty rills,
That tumble down the snowy hills:
Summer drouth or singed air
Never scorch thy tresses fair,
Nor wet October's torrent flood 930
Thy molten crystal fill with mud;
May thy billows roll ashore
The beryl and the golden ore;
May thy lofty head be crowned
With many a tower and terrace round, 935
And here and there thy banks upon
With groves of myrrh and cinnamon.
Come, Lady; while Heaven lends us grace,
Let us fly this cursed place,
Lest the sorcerer us entice 940
With some other new device.
Not a waste or needless sound
Till we come to holier ground.
I shall be your faithful guide
Through this gloomy covert wide; 945
And not many furlongs thence
Is your Father's residence,
Where this night are met in state
Many a friend to gratulate
His wished presence, and beside 950
All the swains that there abide
With jigs and rural dance resort.
We shall catch them at their sport,
And our sudden coming there
Will double all their mirth and cheer. 955
Come, let us haste; the stars grow high,
But Night sits monarch yet in the mid sky.
The Scene changes, presenting Ludlow Town, and the President's Castle:
then come the Country Dancers; after them the Attendant Spirit, with the
Two Brothers and the Lady.
Spir. Back, shepherds, back! Enough your play
Till next sun-shine holiday.
Here be, without duck or nod, 960
Other trippings to be trod
Of lighter toes, and such court guise
As Mercury did first devise
With the mincing Dryades
On the lawns and on the leas. 965
This second Song presents them to their Father and Mother.
Noble Lord and Lady bright,
I have brought ye new delight.
Here behold so goodly grown
Three fair branches of your own.
Heaven hath timely tried their youth, 970
Their faith, their patience, and their truth,
And sent them here through hard assays
With a crown of deathless praise,
To triumph in victorious dance
O'er sensual folly and intemperance. 975
The dances ended, the Spirit epiloguizes.
Spir. To the ocean now I fly,
And those happy climes that lie
Where day never shuts his eye,
Up in the broad fields of the sky.
There I suck the liquid air, 980
All amidst the gardens fair
Of Hesperus, and his daughters three
That sing about the golden tree.
Along the crisped shades and bowers
Revels the spruce and jocund Spring; 985
The Graces and the rosy-bosomed Hours
Thither all their bounties bring.
There eternal Summer dwells,
And west winds with musky wing
About the cedarn alleys fling 990
Nard and cassia's balmy smells.
Iris there with humid bow
Waters the odorous banks, that blow
Flowers of more mingled hue
Than her purfled scarf can shew, 995
And drenches with Elysian dew
(List, mortals, if your ears be true)
Beds of hyacinth and roses,
Where young Adonis oft reposes,
Waxing well of his deep wound, 1000
In slumbers soft, and on the ground
Sadly sits the Assyrian queen.
But far above, in spangled sheen,
Celestial Cupid, her famed son, advanced
Holds his dear Psyche, sweet entranced 1005
After her wandering labors long,
Till free consent the gods among
Make her his eternal bride,
And from her fair unspotted side
Two blissful twins are to be born, 1010
Youth and Joy; so Jove hath sworn.
But now my task is smoothly done:
I can fly, or I can run
Quickly to the green earth's end,
Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend, 1015
And from thence can soar as soon
To the corners of the moon.
Mortals, that would follow me,
Love Virtue; she alone is free.
She can teach ye how to climb 1020
Higher than the sphery chime;
Or, if Virtue feeble were,
Heaven itself would stoop to her.
In this Monody the Author bewails a learned Friend, unfortunately drowned
in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637; and, by occasion,
foretells the ruin of our corrupted Clergy, then in their height.
Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more,
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,
And with forced fingers rude
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year. 5
Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear
Compels me to disturb your season due;
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.
Who would not sing for Lycidas? he knew 10
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not float upon his watery bier
Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of some melodious tear.
Begin, then, Sisters of the sacred well 15
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring;
Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string.
Hence with denial vain and coy excuse:
So may some gentle Muse
With lucky words favor my destined urn, 20
And as he passes turn,
And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud!
For we were nursed upon the self-same hill,
Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill;
Together both, ere the high lawns appeared 25
Under the opening eyelids of the Morn,
We drove a-field, and both together heard
What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,
Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the star that rose at evening bright 30
Toward heaven's descent had sloped his westering wheel.
Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute;
Tempered to the oaten flute
Rough Satyrs danced, and Fauns with cloven heel
From the glad sound would not be absent long; 35
And old Damoetas loved to hear our song.
But, oh! the heavy change, now thou art gone,
Now thou art gone and never must return!
Thee, Shepherd, thee the woods and desert caves,
With wild thyme and the gadding vine o'ergrown, 40
And all their echoes, mourn.
The willows, and the hazel copses green,
Shall now no more be seen
Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.
As killing as the canker to the rose, 45
Or taint-worm to the weanling herds that graze,
Or frost to flowers, that their gay wardrobe wear,
When first the white-thorn blows;
Such Lycidas, thy loss to shepherd's ear.
Where were ye, Nymphs, when the remorseless deep 50
Closed o'er the head of your loved Lycidas?
For neither were ye playing on the steep
Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lie,
Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high,
Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream. 55
Ay me! I fondly dream
"Had ye been there," ... for what could that have done?
What could the Muse herself that Orpheus bore,
The Muse herself, for her enchanting son,
Whom universal nature did lament, 60
When, by the rout that made the hideous roar,
His gory visage down the stream was sent,
Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore?
Alas! what boots it with uncessant care
To tend the homely, slighted, shepherd's trade, 65
And strictly meditate the thankless Muse?
Were it not better done, as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neæra's hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise 70
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears, 75
And slits the thin-spun life. "But not the praise,"
Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling ears:
"Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to the world, nor in broad rumor lies, 80
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in heaven expect thy meed."
O fountain Arethuse, and thou honored flood, 85
Smooth-sliding Mincius, crowned with vocal reeds,
That strain I heard was of a higher mood.
But now my oat proceeds,
And listens to the Herald of the Sea,
That came in Neptune's plea. 90
He asked the waves, and asked the felon winds,
What hard mishap hath doomed this gentle swain?
And questioned every gust of rugged wings
That blows from off each beaked promontory.
They knew not of his story; 95
And sage Hippotades their answer brings,
That not a blast was from his dungeon strayed:
The air was calm, and on the level brine
Sleek Panope with all her sisters played.
It was that fatal and perfidious bark, 100
Built in the eclipse, and rigged with curses dark,
That sunk so low that sacred head of thine.
Next, Camus, reverend sire, went footing slow,
His mantle hairy, and his bonnet sedge,
Inwrought with figures dim, and on the edge 105
Like to that sanguine flower inscribed with woe.
"Ah! who hath reft," quoth he, "my dearest pledge?"
Last came, and last did go,
The Pilot of the Galilean Lake;
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain 110
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain).
He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake:--
"How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as, for their bellies' sake,
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold! 115
Of other care they little reckoning make
Than how to scramble at the shearers' feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest.
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learnt aught else the least 120
That to the faithful herdman's art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
And, when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed, 125
But swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread;
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.
But that two-handed engine at the door 130
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more."
Return, Alpheus; the dread voice is past
That shrunk thy streams; return, Sicilian Muse,
And call the vales, and bid them hither cast
Their bells and flowerets of a thousand hues. 135
Ye valleys low, where the mild whispers use
Of shades, and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,
On whose fresh lap the swart star sparely looks,
Throw hither all your quaint enamelled eyes,
That on the green turf suck the honeyed showers, 140
And purple all the ground with vernal flowers.
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine,
The white pink, and the pansy freaked with jet,
The glowing violet, 145
The musk-rose, and the well-attired woodbine,
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears;
Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And daffadillies fill their cups with tears, 150
To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.
For so, to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.
Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where'er thy bones are hurled; 155
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit'st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old, 160
Where the great Vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold.
Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth:
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more, 165
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor.
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore 170
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of Him that walked the waves,
Where, other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves, 175
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the Saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That sing, and singing in their glory move, 180
And wipe the tears forever from his eyes.
Now, Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more;
Henceforth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood. 185
Thus sang the uncouth swain to the oaks and rills,
While the still morn went out with sandals gray:
He touched the tender stops of various quills,
With eager thought warbling his Doric lay:
And now the sun had stretched out all the hills, 190
And now was dropt into the western bay.
At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue;
To-morrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.
TO THE NIGHTINGALE.
O Nightingale that on yon bloomy spray
Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still,
Thou with fresh hope the lover's heart dost fill,
While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May.
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of day, 5
First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill,
Portend success in love. O, if Jove's will
Have linked that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate
Foretell my hopeless doom, in some grove nigh; 10
As thou from year to year hast sung too late
For my relief, yet hadst no reason why.
Whether the Muse or Love called thee his mate,
Both them I serve, and of their train am I.
ON HIS HAVING ARRIVED AT THE AGE OF TWENTY-THREE.
How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stolen on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth 5
That I to manhood am arrived so near;
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.
Yet, be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even 10
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven.
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great Task-Master's eye.
WHEN THE ASSAULT WAS INTENDED TO THE CITY.
Captain or Colonel, or Knight in Arms,
Whose chance on these defenceless doors may seize,
If deed of honor did thee ever please,
Guard them, and him within protect from harms.
He can requite thee; for he knows the charms 5
That call fame on such gentle acts as these,
And he can spread thy name o'er lands and seas,
Whatever clime the sun's bright circle warms.
Lift not thy spear against the Muses' bower:
The great Emathian conqueror bid spare 10
The house of Pindarus, when temple and tower
Went to the ground; and the repeated air
Of sad Electra's poet had the power
To save the Athenian walls from ruin bare.
TO A VIRTUOUS YOUNG LADY.
Lady, that in the prime of earliest youth
Wisely hast shunned the broad way and the green,
And with those few art eminently seen
That labor up the hill of heavenly Truth,
The better part with Mary and with Ruth 5
Chosen thou hast; and they that overween,
And at thy growing virtues fret their spleen,
No anger find in thee, but pity and ruth.
Thy care is fixed, and zealously attends
To fill thy odorous lamp with deeds of light, 10
And hope that reaps not shame. Therefore be sure
Thou, when the Bridegroom with his feastful friends
Passes to bliss at the mid-hour of night,
Hast gained thy entrance, Virgin wise, and pure.
TO THE LADY MARGARET LEY.
Daughter to that good Earl, once President
Of England's Council and her Treasury,
Who lived in both unstained with gold or fee,
And left them both, more in himself content,
Till the sad breaking of that Parliament 5
Broke him, as that dishonest victory
At Chæronea, fatal to liberty,
Killed with report that old man eloquent,
Though later born than to have known the days
Wherein your father flourished, yet by you, 10
Madam, methinks I see him living yet:
So well your words his noble virtues praise
That all both judge you to relate them true
And to possess them, honored Margaret.
TO MR. H. LAWES ON HIS AIRS.
Harry, whose tuneful and well-measured song
First taught our English music how to span
Words with just note and accent, not to scan
With Midas' ears, committing short and long,
Thy worth and skill exempts thee from the throng, 5
With praise enough for Envy to look wan;
To after age thou shalt be writ the man
That with smooth air couldst humor best our tongue.
Thou honor'st Verse, and Verse must send her wing
To honor thee, the priest of Phoebus' quire, 10
That tunest their happiest lines in hymn or story.
Dante shall give Fame leave to set thee higher
Than his Casella, whom he wooed to sing,
Met in the milder shades of Purgatory.
ON THE LORD GENERAL FAIRFAX, AT THE SIEGE OF COLCHESTER.
Fairfax, whose name in arms through Europe rings,
Filling each mouth with envy or with praise,
And all her jealous monarchs with amaze,
And rumors loud that daunt remotest kings,
Thy firm unshaken virtue ever brings 5
Victory home, though new rebellions raise
Their Hydra heads, and the false North displays
Her broken league to imp their serpent wings.
O yet a nobler task awaits thy hand
(For what can war but endless war still breed?) 10
Till truth and right from violence be freed,
And public faith cleared from the shameful brand
Of public fraud. In vain doth Valor bleed,
While Avarice and Rapine share the land.
TO THE LORD GENERAL CROMWELL, MAY, 1652,
ON THE PROPOSALS OF CERTAIN MINISTERS AT THE COMMITTEE FOR
PROPAGATION OF THE GOSPEL.
Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud
Not of war only, but detractions rude,
Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,
To peace and truth thy glorious way hast ploughed,
And on the neck of crowned Fortune proud 5
Hast reared God's trophies, and his work pursued,
While Darwen stream, with blood of Scots imbrued,
And Dunbar field, resounds thy praises loud,
And Worcester's laureate wreath: yet much remains
To conquer still; Peace hath her victories 10
No less renowned than War: new foes arise,
Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains.
Help us to save free conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves, whose Gospel is their maw.
TO SIR HENRY VANE THE YOUNGER.
Vane, young in years, but in sage counsel old,
Than whom a better senator ne'er held
The helm of Rome, when gowns, not arms, repelled
The fierce Epirot and the African bold,
Whether to settle peace, or to unfold 5
The drift of hollow states hard to be spelled;
Then to advise how war may best, upheld,
Move by her two main nerves, iron and gold,
In all her equipage; besides, to know
Both spiritual power and civil, what each means, 10
What severs each, thou hast learned, which few have done.
The bounds of either sword to thee we owe:
Therefore on thy firm hand Religion leans
In peace, and reckons thee her eldest son.
ON THE LATE MASSACRE IN PIEDMONT.
Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groans 5
Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese, that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow 10
O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple Tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who, having learnt thy way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.
ON HIS BLINDNESS.
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present 5
My true account, lest He returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best 10
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."
TO MR. LAWRENCE.
Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son,
Now that the fields are dank, and ways are mire,
Where shall we sometimes meet, and by the fire
Help waste a sullen day, what may be won
From the hard season gaining? Time will run 5
On smoother, till Favonius reinspire
The frozen earth, and clothe in fresh attire
The lily and rose, that neither sowed nor spun.
What neat repast shall feast us, light and choice,
Of Attic taste, with wine, whence we may rise 10
To hear the lute well touched, or artful voice
Warble immortal notes and Tuscan air?
He who of those delights can judge, and spare
To interpose them oft, is not unwise.
TO CYRIACK SKINNER.
Cyriack, whose grandsire on the royal bench
Of British Themis, with no mean applause,
Pronounced, and in his volumes taught, our laws,
Which others at their bar so often wrench,
To-day deep thoughts resolve with me to drench 5
In mirth that after no repenting draws;
Let Euclid rest, and Archimedes pause,
And what the Swede intend, and what the French.
To measure life learn thou betimes, and know
Toward solid good what leads the nearest way; 10
For other things mild Heaven a time ordains,
And disapproves that care, though wise in show,
That with superfluous burden loads the day,
And, when God sends a cheerful hour, refrains.
TO THE SAME.
Cyriack, this three years' day these eyes, though clear,
To outward view, of blemish or of spot,
Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year, 5
Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not
Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied 10
In Liberty's defence, my noble task,
Of which all Europe rings from side to side.
This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask
Content, though blind, had I no better guide.
ON HIS DECEASED WIFE
Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
Rescued from Death by force, though pale and faint.
Mine, as whom washed from spot of child-bed taint 5
Purification in the Old Law did save,
And such as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind.
Her face was veiled; yet to my fancied sight 10
Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined
So clear as in no face with more delight.
But, oh! as to embrace me she inclined,
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.
ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY.
From his sixteenth year Milton had been wont to write freely in Latin
verse, on miscellaneous poetic themes, sometimes expressing his thoughts
on events of the day, and sometimes addressing letters to his friends on
purely personal matters. From these Latin poems, which therefore in some
sense belong to English literature, we obtain valuable insight into his
course of life and his way of thinking. What Milton wrote in foreign
languages is indispensable for the information it gives us about
himself--its content is important; but as poetry implies a fusing of
content and form into an artistic unity, if one of these elements is
foreign, the result is nondescript and cannot be ranged under the head of
English literature in the strict sense of the term.
It is in one of Milton's own Latin pieces that we find our best
commentary on the Hymn on the Nativity. The sixth Latin Elegy is an
epistle to his intimate college friend, "Charles Diodati making a stay in
the country," the last twelve lines of which may be freely translated as
But if you shall wish to know what I am doing,--if indeed you think it
worth your while to know whether I am doing anything at all,--we are
singing the peace-bringing king born of heavenly seed, and the happy ages
promised in the sacred books, and the crying of the infant God lying in a
manger under a poor roof, who dwells with his father in the realms above;
and the starry sky, and the squadrons singing on high, and the gods
suddenly driven away to their own fanes. Those gifts we have indeed given
to the birthday of Christ; that first light brought them to me at dawn.
Thee also they await sung to our native pipes; thou shalt be to me in
lieu of a judge for me to read them to.
This means, of course, that the poet is composing a Christmas Hymn in his
native language. We must note his age at this time,--twenty-one years: he
is a student at Cambridge. The poem remains the great Christmas hymn in
our literature. "The Ode on the Nativity," says Professor Saintsbury, "is
a test of the reader's power to appreciate poetry."
In four stanzas the poet speaks in his own person: he too must, with the
wise men from the east, bring such gifts as he has, to offer to the
Infant God. His offering is the humble ode which follows. We must take
note of the change in the metric form which marks the transition from the
introduction to the ode. In the stanzas of the former the lines all have
five accents, except the last, which has six; while in the latter, four
lines have three accents each, one has four, two have five, and one has
six. Notice also the occasional hypermetric lines, such as line 47.
In connection with Milton's Hymn, read Alfred Domett's It was the calm
and silent night.
5. For so the holy sages once did sing. See Par. Lost XII 324.
6. our deadly forfeit should release. Compare Par. Lost III 221, and see
the idea of releasing a forfeit otherwise expressed in the Merchant of
Venice IV 1 24.
10. he wont. This is the past tense of the verb wont, meaning to be
accustomed. See the present, Par. Lost I 764, and the participle, I 332.
15. thy sacred vein. See vein in the same sense, Par. Lost VI 628.
19. the Sun's team. Compare Comus 95, and read the story of Phaëthon in
Ovid's Metamorphoses II 106.
24. prevent them with thy humble ode. See prevent in this sense, in
Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar V 1 105, and in Psalm XXI 3.
28. touched with hallowed fire. See Acts II 3. On the meaning of secret,
compare Par. Lost X 32.
41. Pollute is the participle, exactly equivalent to polluted.
48. the turning sphere. For poetical purposes Milton everywhere adopts
the popular astronomy of his day, which was based on the ancient, i.e.
the Ptolemaic, or geocentric system of the universe. Copernicus had
already taught the modern, heliocentric theory of the solar system, and
his innovations were not unknown to Milton, who, however, consistently
adheres to the old conceptions. In Milton, therefore, we find the earth
the centre of the visible universe, while the sun, the planets, and the
fixed stars revolve about it in their several spheres. These spheres
are nine in number, arranged concentrically, like the coats of an onion,
about the earth, and, if of solid matter, are to be conceived as being of
perfectly transparent crystal. Beginning with the innermost, they present
themselves in the following order: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun,
Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Fixed Stars, the Primum Mobile. In Par. Lost
III 481, the ninth sphere appears as "that crystalline sphere whose
balance weighs the trepidation talked," and the Primum Mobile, or the
first moved, becomes the tenth and outermost of the series. The last two
spheres contain no stars.
We see, then, what we must understand by the oft-recurring spheres in
Milton's poetry. In the line, Down through the turning sphere, however,
the singular sphere is obviously used to mean the whole aggregate of
spheres composing the starry universe.
50. With turtle wing. With the wing of a turtle-dove.
56. The hooked chariot. War chariots sometimes had scythes, or hooks,
attached to their axles. See 2 Maccabees XIII 2.
60. sovran. Milton always uses this form in preference to sovereign.
62. the Prince of Light. Note the corresponding epithet applied to Satan,
Par. Lost X 383.
64. The winds, with wonder whist. The word whist, originally an
interjection, becomes an adjective, as here and in The Tempest I 2 378.
66. Make three syllables of Oceän, and make it rhyme with began.
68. birds of calm. The birds referred to are doubtless halcyons. Dr.
Murray defines halcyon thus: "A bird of which the ancients fabled that it
bred about the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea,
and that it charmed the wind and waves so that the sea was specially calm
during the period; usually identified with a species of kingfisher, hence
a poetic name of this bird."
71. their precious influence. The word influence is originally a term
of astrology,--"a flowing in, or influent course, of the planets; their
virtue infused into, or their course working on, inferior creatures"
(Skeat, Etym. Dict.).
73. For all the morning light. As in Burns's "We dare be poor for a'
that," for meaning in spite of.
74. Lucifer. See Par. Lost VII 131-133.
81. As, for as if.
86. Or ere the point of dawn. The two words or ere mean simply
before, as in Hamlet I 2 147, "A little month, or ere those shoes were
old." The point of dawn imitates the French le point du jour.
88. Full little thought they than. Than is an ancient form of then,
not wholly obsolete in Milton's day.
89. the mighty Pan. The poet takes the point of view of the shepherds and
uses the name of their special deity.
95. by mortal finger strook. Milton uses the three participle forms,
strook, struck, and strucken.
98. As all their souls in blissful rapture took. The verb take has here
the same meaning as in Hamlet I 1 163, "no fairy takes nor witch hath
power to charm." Thus also we say, a vaccination takes.
103. Cynthia's seat. See Penseroso 59, and Romeo and Juliet III 5 20.
108. Make the line rhyme properly, giving to union three syllables.
112. The helmed cherubim. See Genesis III 24.
113. The sworded seraphim. See Isaiah VI 2-6.
116. With unexpressive notes, meaning beyond the power of human
expression. So in Lycidas 176; Par. Lost V 595; and in As You Like It,
"the fair, the chaste, and inexpressive she."
119. But when of old the Sons of Morning sung. See Job XXXVIII 7.
124. the weltering waves. Compare Lycidas 13.
125. Ring out, ye crystal spheres. See note, line 48. The elder poetry is
full of the notion that the spheres in their revolutions made music,
which human ears are too gross to hear. See Merchant of Venice V 1 50-65.
136. speckled Vanity. The leopard that confronts Dante in Canto I of
Hell is beautiful with its dappled skin, but symbolizes vain glory.
143. like glories wearing. The adjective like means nothing without a
complement, though the complement sometimes has to be supplied, as in
this instance. Fully expressed the passage would be,--wearing glories
like those of Truth and Justice. The like in such a case as this must
be spoken with a fuller tone than when its construction is completely
155. those ychained in sleep. The poets, in order to gain a syllable,
long continued to use the ancient participle prefix y. See yclept,
157. With such a horrid clang. See Exodus XIX.
168. The Old Dragon. See Revelation XII 9.
173. Stanzas XIX-XXVI announce the deposition and expulsion of the pagan
deities, and the ruin of the ancient religions. In accordance with his
custom of grouping selected proper names in abundance, thus giving
vividness and concreteness to his story and sonority to his verse, the
poet here illustrates the triumph of the new dispensation by citing the
names of various gods from the Roman, Greek, Syrian, and Egyptian
176. Apollo, the great god, whose oracle was at Delphi, or Delphos.
179. spell, as in Comus 853, and often.
186. Genius. A Latin word, signifying a tutelary or guardian spirit
supposed to preside over a person or place. See Lycidas 183, and
191. The Lars and Lemures. In the Roman mythology these were the spirits
of dead ancestors, worshipped or propitiated in families as having power
for good or evil over the fortunes of their descendants.
194. Affrights the flamens. The Roman flamens were the priests of
195. the chill marble seems to sweat. Many instances of this phenomenon
are reported. Thus Cicero, in his De Divinatione, tells us: "It was
reported to the senate that it had rained blood, that the river Atratus
had even flowed with blood, and that the statues of the gods had sweat."
197. Peor and Baälim. Syrian false gods. See Numbers XXV 3.
199. that twice-battered god of Palestine. See I Samuel V 2.
200. mooned Ashtaroth. See I Kings XI 33.
203. The Lybic Hammon. "Hammon had a famous temple in Africa, where he
was adored under the symbolic figure of a ram."
204. their wounded Thammuz. See Ezekiel VIII 14.
205. sullen Moloch. See Par. Lost I 392-396.
210. the furnace blue. Compare Arcades 52.
212. Isis, and Orus, and the dog Anubis. Egyptian deities, the latter
figured as having the head of a dog.
213. Nor is Osiris seen. Osiris was the principal god of the Egyptians,
brother and husband of Isis. His highest function was as god of the Nile.
He met his death at the hands of his brother Typhon, a deity of
sterility, by whom he was torn into fourteen pieces. Thereupon a general
lament was raised throughout Egypt. The bull Apis was regarded as the
visible incarnation of Osiris.--Murray's Manual of Mythology.
215. the unshowered grass. Remember, this was in Egypt.
223. his dusky eyn. This ancient plural of eye occurs several times in
Shakespeare, as in As You Like It IV 3 50.
240. Heaven's youngest-teemed star. Compare Comus 175.
241. Hath fixed her polished car. Fix has its proper meaning,
stopped. The star "came and stood over where the young child was."
The first edition of the collected works of Shakespeare, known as the
first folio, was published in 1623, when Milton was fifteen years old.
The second Shakespeare folio appeared in 1632. Among the commendatory
verses by various hands prefixed, after the fashion of the time, to the
latter volume, was a little piece of eight couplets, in which some then
unknown rhymer expressed his admiration of the great poet. Collecting his
poems for publication in 1645, Milton included these couplets, gave them
the date 1630, and the title On Shakespeare which they have since borne
in his works. The fact that he wrote the verses two years before their
publication in the Shakespeare folio shows that he did not produce them
to order, for the special occasion. It is interesting to note that Milton
at twenty-two was an appreciative reader of Shakespeare. The lines
themselves give no hint of great poetic genius; they are a fair specimen
of the conventional, labored eulogy in vogue at the time.
4. star-ypointing. To make the decasyllabic verse, the poet takes the
liberty of prefixing to the present participle the y which properly
belongs only to the past.
8. a livelong monument. Instead of livelong, the first issue of the
lines, in the Shakespeare folio of 1632, has lasting. The change is
Milton's, appearing in his revision of his poems in 1645. Does it seem to
be an improvement?
10-12. and that each heart hath ... took. The conjunction that simply
repeats the whilst.
11. thy unvalued book. In Hamlet I 3 19 unvalued persons are persons of
no value, or of no rank. In Macbeth III 1 94 the valued file is the
file that determines values or ranks. In Milton's phrase the unvalued
book means the book whose merit is so great as to be beyond all
valuation: a new rank must be created for it.
12. Those Delphic lines: lines so crowded with meaning as to seem the
utterances of an oracle.
13. our fancy of itself bereaving: transporting us into an ecstasy, or
making us rapt with thought.
14. Dost make us marble with too much conceiving. The concentrated
attention required to penetrate Shakespeare's meaning makes statues of
15. Make the word sepulchred fit metrically into the iambic verse.
L'ALLEGRO AND IL PENSEROSO.
The year in which the poems were composed is uncertain. Masson regards
1632 as the probable date.
The exquisite poems to which Milton gave the Italian titles
L'Allegro,--the mirthful, or jovial, man,--and Il Penseroso,--the
melancholy, or saturnine, man,--should be regarded each as the pendant
and complement of the other, and should be read as a single whole. The
poet knew both moods, and takes both standpoints with equal grace and
heartiness. The essential idea of thus contrasting the mirthful and the
melancholy temperament he found ready to his hand. Robert Burton had
prefaced his Anatomy of Melancholy, published in 1621, with a series of
not unpleasing, though by no means graceful, amoebean stanzas, in which
two speakers alternately represent Melancholy, one as sweet and divine,
and the other as harsh, sour, and damned. Undoubtedly Milton knew his
Burton. But if he got his main idea from this source, he made his poems
thoroughly Miltonic by his art of visualizing in delicious pictures the
various phases of his abstract theme. The poems are wholly poetical,
equally free from obscurity of thought and from obscurity of expression.
Each poem is prefaced with a vigorous exorcism of the spirit to which it
is hostile. This is couched in alternate three and five accent iambics,
preparing a delicious rhythmic effect when the metre changes, in the
invocation, to the octosyllable, with or without anacrusis.
In L'Allegro we accompany the mirthful man through an entire day of his
pleasures, from early morning to late evening. The melancholy man moves
through a programme less definitely and regularly planned. The scenes of
his delights are mostly in the hours of the night: when the sun is up, he
hides himself from day's garish eye.
2. Of Cerberus and blackest Midnight born. Milton follows the example of
the ancient poets in announcing the parentage of the principal beings
whom he brings upon his stage. Moreover, he uses the ancient freedom in
assigning mythical pedigrees, not only adopting no authority as a canon,
but allowing his own fancy to invent origins as suits his purpose. He
knew the Greek and Latin poets, and assumed for himself the privilege
which they exercised of shaping the myths as they pleased. We are not
therefore to seek in Milton a reproduction of any system of mythology.
Cerberus was the terrible three-headed dog of Pluto. His station was at
the entrance to the lower world, or the Stygian cave.
3. The Stygian cave is so called from the Styx, the infernal river, "the
flood of deadly hate."
5. some uncouth cell. Uncouth may be used here in its original sense of
unknown, as in Par. Lost VIII 230.
10. In dark Cimmerian desert. The Cimmerians were a people fabled by the
ancients to live in perpetual darkness.
12. yclept is the participle of the obsolete verb clepe, with the
ancient prefix y, as in ychained, Hymn on the Nativity 155.
15. two sister Graces more. Hesiod names, as the three Graces,
Euphrosyne, Aglaia, and Thalia, but he makes them the daughters of Zeus
18. The frolic wind. See frolic again as an adjective, Comus 59.
24. So buxom, blithe, and debonair. See Shakespeare's Pericles, I Gower
23. All these words are interesting to look up for etymologies and
changes of meaning.
25-36. We readily accept and understand the personification of Jest,
Jollity, Sport, Laughter, and Liberty, but the plurals, Quips, Cranks,
Wiles, Nods, Becks, Smiles, we do not manage quite so easily, especially
in view of the couplet 29-30.
28. Smiles may be said to be wreathed because they inwreathe the face.
See Par. Lost III 361.
33. trip it, as you go. So in Shakespeare, "I'll queen it no inch
further; Rather than fool it so; I'll go brave it at the court, lording
it in London streets."
41. With this line begins a series of illustrations of the unreproved
pleasures which L'Allegro is going to enjoy during a day of leisure. At
first the specified pleasures or occupations are introduced by
infinitives, to hear, to come; but the construction soon changes, as we
shall see. The first pleasure is To hear the lark, etc. 41-44. L'Allegro
begins his day with early morning. Here we must imagine him as having
risen and gone forth where he can see the sky and can look about him to
see what is going on in the farm-yard.
45-46. Then to come, in spite of sorrow,
And at my window bid good-morrow.
It must be L'Allegro himself who comes to the window, and as he is
outside, he comes to look in through the shrubbery and bid good morning
to the cottage inmates, who are now up and about their work. The
pertinency of the phrase, in spite of sorrow, is not intelligible.
53. Oft listening how the hounds and horn. This "pleasure" and the
next--sometime walking--are introduced with present participles. There
is no interruption of grammatical consistency.
57. Sometime walking, not unseen. See the counterpart of this line,
Penseroso 65. Todd quotes the note of Bishop Hurd,--"Happy men love
witnesses of their joy: the splenetic love solitude."
59. against, i.e. toward.
62. The clouds in thousand liveries dight. Dight is the participle of
the verb to dight, meaning to adorn. It is still used as an archaism.
67. And every shepherd tells his tale. This undoubtedly means counts the
number of his flock. In Shakespeare we find, to tell money, years,
steps, a hundred. So tale often means an enumeration, a number.
L'Allegro finds the shepherds in the morning counting their sheep, not
68. With this line ends the long, loose sentence that began with line 37.
We now come to a full stop, and with line 69 begin a new sentence.
70. the landskip. A word of late origin in English, of unsettled spelling
in Milton's day.
71. Russet lawns. In Milton, lawn means field or pasture. See Lycidas
77. In this line the subject, mine eye, is resumed.
80. The cynosure of neighboring eyes. In the constellation Cynosure,
usually called the Lesser Bear, is the pole-star, to which very many eyes
81. A new "pleasure" is introduced, with a new grammatical subject.
83. Where Corydon and Thyrsis met. The proper names in lines 83-88 add to
the poem a pleasing touch of pastoral simplicity and cheerfulness. They
are taken from the common stock of names, which, originally devised by
the Greek idyllists for their shepherds and shepherdesses, have by the
pastoral poets of all subsequent ages been appropriated to their special
use. Corydon and Thyrsis stand for farm-laborers, Phyllis and Thestylis
for their wives or housekeepers. The day of L'Allegro has now advanced to
dinner-time. Phyllis has been preparing the frugal meal, as we could
surmise from the smoking chimney. As soon as the dinner is over the women
go out to work with the men in the harvest field.
87. bower means simply dwelling.
90. In the tanned haycock we see the hay dried and browned by the sun.
91. The scene changes and brings yet another "pleasure." secure delight
is delight without care, sine cura. See Samson Agonistes 55.
96. in the chequered shade. They danced under trees through whose foliage
the sunlight filtered.
99. Evening comes on, and a new pleasure succeeds. Story-telling is now
102. Sufficient information about Faery Mab can be got from Romeo and
Juliet I 4 53-95.
103-104. She, i.e. one of the maids; And he,--one of the youths. The
Friar's lantern is the ignis fatuus, or will-o'-the-wisp, fabled to lead
men into dangerous marshes.
105. A connective is lacking to make the syntax sound: the subject of
tells must be he. the drudging goblin. This is Robin Goodfellow, known
to readers of fairy tales. Ben Jonson makes him a character in his Court
Masque, Love Restored, where he is made to recount many of his pranks,
and says, among other things, "I am the honest plain country spirit, and
harmless, Robin Goodfellow, he that sweeps the hearth and the house
clean, riddles for the country maids, and does all their other drudgery."
109. could not end. Dr. Murray gives this among other quotations as an
instance of the verb end meaning to put into the barn, to get in. So
in Coriolanus V 6 87.
110. the lubber fiend. This goblin is loutish in shape and
fiendish-looking, though so good to those who treat him well.
115. Thus done the tales. An absolute construction, imitating the Latin
117. The country folk having gone early to bed, tired with their day's
labor, L'Allegro hastes to the city, where the pleasures of life are
prolonged further into the night.
120. In weeds of peace, high triumphs hold. This must mean such things as
masques and revelries among the upper classes.
122. Rain influence. See note on Hymn on the Nativity 71.
124. What is the antecedent of whom?
125. What ceremony is here introduced?
128. Do not misunderstand the word mask. Its meaning becomes plain from
131. To what pleasure does L'Allegro now betake himself?
132. Among the dramatists of the Jacobean time Ben Jonson had especially
the repute of scholarship. The sock symbolizes comedy, as the buskin does
tragedy. Compare Il Penseroso 102.
133-134. Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
Warble his native wood-notes wild.
The couplet seems intended to convey the idea of a counterpart or
contrast to the learned sock of Jonson. So considered, it is by no
means an unhappy characterization.
135. The last of the "unreproved pleasures" that L'Allegro wishes he may
enjoy, seems not so much planned to follow the rest in sequence of time
as to accompany them and be diffused through them all. Observe the ever
in this line. The eating cares are a reminiscence of Horace's curas
edaces, Ode II 11 18.
136. Lap me in soft Lydian airs. The three chief modes, or moods, of
Greek music were the Lydian, which was soft and pathetic; the Dorian,
especially adapted to war (see Par. Lost 550); and the Phrygian, which
was bold and vehement.
138. the meeting soul. The soul, in its eagerness, goes forth to meet and
welcome the music.
139. The word bout seems to point at a piece of music somewhat in the
nature of a round, or catch.
145. That Orpheus' self may heave his head. Even Orpheus, who in his life
"drew trees, stones, and floods" by the power of his music, and who now
reposes in Elysium, would lift his head to listen to the strains that
L'Allegro would fain hear.
149. Orpheus, with his music, had succeeded in obtaining from Pluto
only a conditional release of his wife Eurydice. He was not to look back
upon her till he was quite clear of Pluto's domains. He failed to make
good the condition, and so again lost his Eurydice.
3. How little you bested. The verb bested means to avail, to be of
service. It is not the same word that we find in Isaiah VIII 21, "hardly
bestead and hungry."
6. fond here has its primitive meaning, foolish. Understand possess in
the sense in which it is used in the Bible,--"possessed with devils."
10. Make two syllables of Morpheus.
12. Note that while he invoked Mirth in L'Allegro under her Greek name
Euphrosyne, the poet finds no corresponding Greek designation for
Melancholy. To us Melancholy seems a name unhappily chosen. But see how
Milton applies it in line 62 below, and in Comus 546. To him the word
evidently connotes pensive meditation rather than gloomy depression.
14. To hit the sense of human sight: to be gazed at by human eyes.
18. Prince Memnon was a fabled Ethiopian prince, black, and celebrated
for his beauty. Recall Virgil's nigri Memnonis arma.
19. that starred Ethiop queen. Cassiopeia, wife of the Ethiopian king
Cepheus, boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, for which
act of presumption she was translated to the skies, where she became the
beautiful constellation which we know by her name.
23. bright-haired Vesta. Vesta--in Greek, Hestia--"was the goddess of
the home, the guardian of family life. Her spotless purity fitted her
peculiarly to be the guardian of virgin modesty."
30. Whilst yet there was no fear of Jove, i.e. before Saturn was
dethroned by Jupiter.
33. All in a robe of darkest grain. In Par. Lost V 285, the third pair of
Raphael's wings have the color of sky-tinctured grain; and XI 242, his
vest is of purple livelier than "the grain of Sarra," or Tyrian purple.
This would leave us to infer that the robe of Melancholy is of a deep
rich color, so dark as to be almost black. Dr. Murray quotes from
Southey's Thalaba, "The ebony ... with darkness feeds its boughs of
raven grain." What objection is there to making the grain in Milton's
35. And sable stole of cypress lawn. Dr. Murray thus defines cypress
lawn, "A light transparent material resembling cobweb lawn or crape;
like the latter it was, when black, much used for habiliments of
37. Come; but keep thy wonted state. Compare with this passage, L'Allegro
40. Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes. In Cymbeline I 6 51 we find the
present tense of the verb of which rapt is the participle: "What, dear
Sir, thus raps you?" Do not confound this word with rap, meaning to
42. Forget thyself to marble. With this compare On Shakespeare 14.
43. With a sad leaden downward cast. So in Love's Labor's Lost IV 3 321,
"In leaden contemplation;" Othello III 4 177, "I have this while with
leaden thoughts been pressed." So also Gray in the Hymn to Adversity,
"With leaden eye that loves the ground."
45-55. Compare the company which Il Penseroso entreats Melancholy to
bring along with her with that which L'Allegro wishes to see attending
46. Spare Fast, that oft with gods doth diet. Only the rigid ascetic has
a spiritual ear so finely trained that he hears the celestial music.
48. Aye, as their rhymes show, is always pronounced by the poets with the
vowel sound in day.
53. the fiery-wheeled throne. See Daniel VII 9.
54. The Cherub Contemplation. Pronounce contemplation with five
syllables. It is difficult to form a distinct conception of the nature
and office of the cherub of the Scriptures. Milton in many passages of
Par. Lost follows, with regard to the heavenly beings, the account given
by Dionysius the Areopagite in his Celestial Hierarchy. According to
Dionysius there were nine orders or ranks of beings in heaven,
namely,--seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers,
principalities, archangels, angels. The cherubim have the special
attribute of knowledge and contemplation of divine things.
55. hist, primarily an interjection commanding silence, becomes here a
56. With the introduction of the nightingale comes the first intimation
of the time of day at which Il Penseroso conceives the course of his
satisfactions to begin.
57. Everywhere else in Milton plight is used with its modern
59. The moon stops to hear the nightingale's song.
65. Remember L'Allegro's not unseen.
77. Up to this point Il Penseroso has been walking in the open air.
78. removed,--remote, retired.
87. As the Bear never sets, to outwatch him must mean to sit up all
88. With thrice great Hermes. "Hermes Trismegistos--Hermes
thrice-greatest--is the name given by the Neo-Platonists and the devotees
of mysticism and alchemy to the Egyptian god Thoth, regarded as more or
less identified with the Grecian Hermes, and as the author of all
mysterious doctrines, and especially of the secrets of alchemy." (The
New Eng. Dicty.) To such studies the serious mediæval scholars devoted
themselves. To unsphere the spirit of Plato is to call him from the
sphere in which he abides in the other world, or, simply, to take in hand
for study his writings on immortality.
93-96. On the four classes of demons,--Salamanders, Sylphs, Nymphs,
Gnomes,--see Pope's Rape of the Lock. These demons are in complicity with
the planets and other heavenly bodies to influence mortals.
97-102. Thebes, Pelops' line, and the tale of Troy are the staple
subjects of the great Attic tragedians. It seems strange that the poet
finds no occasion to name Shakespeare here, as well as in L'Allegro.
104-105. Musæus and Orpheus are semi-mythical bards, to whom is ascribed
a greatness proportioned to their obscurity.
105-108. See note on L'Allegro, 149.
109-115. Or call up him that left half-told. This refers to Chaucer and
to his Squieres Tale in the Canterbury Tales. It is left unfinished. Note
that Milton changes not only the spelling but the accent of the chief
character's name. Chaucer writes, "This noble king was cleped
120. Stories in which more is meant than meets the ear refer to
allegories, like the Fairy Queen.
121. Having thus filled the night with the occupations that he loves, Il
Penseroso now greets the morning, which he hopes to find stormy with wind
122. civil-suited Morn: i.e. Morn in the everyday habiliments of
123-124. Eos--Aurora, the Dawn--carried off several youths distinguished
for their beauty. the Attic boy is probably Cephalus, whom she stole from
his wife Procris.
125. kerchieft in a comely cloud. Kerchief is here used in its original
and proper sense. Look up its origin.
126. The winds may be called rocking because they visibly rock the trees,
or because they shake houses.
127. Or ushered with a shower still. The shower falls gently, without
130. With minute-drops from off the eaves. After the rain has ceased, and
while the thatch is draining, the drops fall at regular intervals for a
time,--as it were, a drop every minute. Il Penseroso listens with
contentment to the wind, the rustling rain-fall on the leaves, and the
monotonous patter of the drops when the rain is over.
131. The shower is past, and the sun appears, but Il Penseroso finds its
beams flaring and distasteful. He seeks covert in the dense groves.
134. Sylvan is the god of the woods.
135. The monumental oak is so called from its great age and size.
140. Consciously nursing his melancholy, Il Penseroso deems the wood that
hides him a sacred place, and resents intrusion as a profanation.
141. Hide me from day's garish eye. See Richard III. IV 4 89, Romeo and
Juliet III 2 25.
142. While the bee with honeyed thigh. Is this good apiology?
146. Entice the dewy-feathered Sleep. Note that sleep is represented as
having feathers. These feathers, in their soft, gentle movement and in
their refreshing effect are likened to dew. The figure is a common one
with the poets. In Par. Lost IX 1044, Milton has,--"till dewy sleep
oppressed them." Cowper, Iliad II, 41, has,--"Awaking from thy dewy
148. his refers to the dewy-feathered sleep. Il Penseroso asks that a
strange, mysterious dream, hovering close by the wings of sleep, and
lightly pictured in a succession of vivid forms, may be laid on his
155-166. The word studious in line 156 determines that the passage refers
to college life and not to church attendance. The old English colleges
have their cloisters, and these have much the same architectural features
as do churches.
157. embowed means vaulted, or bent like a bow.
158. massy-proof: massive and proof against all failure to support their
159. And storied windows richly dight. Compare L'Allegro, 62.
170. The best possible comment on this use of the verb spell is Milton's
own language, Par. Regained IV 382, where Satan, addressing the Son of
God, thus speaks:--
Now, contrary, if I read aught in Heaven,
Or Heaven write aught of fate, by what the stars
Voluminous, or single characters
In their conjunction met, give me to spell,
Sorrows and labors, opposition, hate,
Attends thee; scorns, reproaches, injuries,
Violence and stripes, and, lastly, cruel death.
Il Penseroso's aspiration is that as an astrologer he may learn the
influence of every star and that he may come to know the virtue of every
The noble persons of the family of the Countess Dowager of Derby were
fortunate enough to obtain the services of the poet John Milton to aid in
the composition of a mask, which they presented to her ladyship at her
residence in the country. Arcades--the Arcadians--is Milton's
contribution to this performance. In date the poem precedes Comus, which
is known to have been composed in 1634.
On the meaning of the term mask, as applied to a dramatic form, see
introductory note on Comus.
20. Latona (or Leto) was the mother of Apollo and Diana by Zeus.
21. the towered Cybele is Virgil's Berecyntia Mater, the Phrygian mother,
who, wearing her mural crown, drives in her chariot through the cities of
Phrygia. She was conceived as one of the very oldest deities, and as
mother of a hundred gods. See Æneid VI 785.
28. Of famous Arcady ye are. Arcadia, in the Peloponnesus, was peculiarly
the home of music and song, especially among the shepherds. See Virgil,
Eclogue VII 4-5.
30. Divine Alpheus. See note on Lycidas 132.
46. curl the grove: bestow upon the grove dense, crisp foliage.
47. With ringlets quaint and wanton windings wove. The grove is
intersected with a maze of circling and purposeless paths.
49. noisome: full of annoyance, injurious. See Par. Lost XI 478. blasting
vapors. See note on Comus 640.
51. thwarting thunder blue. Compare Julius Cæsar I 3 50, "the cross blue
52. the cross dire-looking planet. Cross means adverse, unfavorable.
See note on influence, Hymn on the Nativity 71.
54. evening gray. See note on Lycidas 187.
60. murmurs. Compare Comus 526.
63. the celestial Sirens' harmony. The Sirens are here advanced to a high
function and given a new Epithet. Compare Comus 253.
64. the nine infolded spheres. See note on Hymn on Nativity 48.
65-66. See note on Lycidas 75.
69. the daughters of Necessity: the Fates.
72-73. which none can hear Of human mould with gross unpurged ear.
Compare Merchant of Venice V 1 64.
87. touch the warbled string: the string that is accompanied with the
voice. See Il Penseroso 106.
97. Ladon, a river of Arcadia, flowing into the Alpheus.
98. Lycæus and Cyllene, mountains of Arcadia.
100. Erymanth. Erymanthus is a range of mountains separating Arcadia from
Achaia and Elis.
102. Mænalus, another mountain of Arcadia.
106. Though Syrinx your Pan's mistress were. Syrinx was an Arcadian
nymph, who, being pursued by Pan, threw herself into the Ladon, where she
was metamorphosed into a reed, of which the shepherds thereafter made
AT A SOLEMN MUSIC.
The poet listens to what in the phrase of his time is a solemn music,
but which we should name a sacred concert. The poem is unalloyed lyric,
expressing the rapture to which the music has lifted his soul. We must
remember that Milton was himself an amateur musician, and in his days of
darkness found habitual diversion at his organ. Indications of a
susceptible and appreciative ear for musical harmony are frequent
throughout the poems.
7. the sapphire-colored throne. See Ezekiel I 26.
27. consort is the word from which we derive our concert.
During the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I., the mask was
one of the most popular forms of dramatic entertainment. Having a
function and a character peculiar to itself, it flourished side by side
with the regular plays of the theatrical stage, and gave large scope to
the genius of poets, composers, and scenic artists.
The mask was usually designed to grace some important occasion, in which
members of the upper classes of society, or even royal personages, were
concerned. When the occasion called for particularly brilliant display,
and had been long foreseen, the preparations for it would involve immense
outlays for costumes, theatrical machinery, for new music, and for a
libretto by a play-writer of the greatest note. When the mask was purely
a private one, like Arcades and Comus, it was all the fashion for the
gentle youths and maidens, for gentlemen and ladies of the highest rank,
to take upon themselves the parts of the drama, to rehearse them
assiduously, and finally to enact them on the private stage or on the
lawn in the presence of a select audience.
The mask thus differentiated itself from the stage play in that it was
not given for the pecuniary behoof of a company of actors, but
represented rather expenditure for the simple purpose of producing grand
effects. To act in a mask was an honor, when common players were social
outcasts. The mask was got up for the occasion, and was not intended to
keep the boards and attract a paying public. When the august ceremonial
was over, the poet had his manuscript, to increase the bulk of his works,
and the composer had his score, to furnish airs that might be played and
sung in drawing-rooms if they had the good fortune to be popular.
Such was the origin of the poem which Milton, in all the editions
published during his lifetime, entitled simply "A Maske presented at
Ludlow Castle, 1634," but which editors since his day have agreed to name
The occasion of the poem was the coming of the Earl of Bridgewater to
Ludlow Castle, to enter upon his official residence there as Lord
President of Wales. The person chiefly concerned in the scenic, musical,
and histrionic preparations of the mask was Milton's esteemed friend, the
most accomplished musical composer of the day, Henry Lawes. Lawes
composed the music and arranged the stage business. He seems to have
taken upon himself the part of the Attendant Spirit. Lawes knew to whom
to apply for the all-important matter of the book, the words, or the
poetry, of the piece, for he had learned to know Milton's qualifications
as a mask-poet in the fragment which we have under the name Arcades.
With good music even for commonplace lyric verse, and with sprightly
declamation even of conventional dialogue, the thing, as we know from
modern instances, might have been carried off by gorgeous costumes and
shrewdly devised scenic effects. Most of the masks of the time fell at
once into oblivion. But Lawes had secured for his poet John Milton; and
the consequence thereof is that the Earl of Bridgewater is now chiefly
heard of because at Ludlow Castle there was enacted, in the form of a
mask written by Milton, a drama which is still read and reread by every
English-speaking person who reads any serious poetry, though Ludlow
Castle has long been a venerable ruin.
For his plot, the poet feigned that the young children of the earl, two
sons and a daughter, in coming to Ludlow, had to pass unattended through
a forest, in which the boys became separated from the girl and she fell
into the hands of the enchanter Comus. The Attendant Spirit appears to
the youths with his magic herb, and with the further assistance of the
water-nymph Sabrina, at last makes all right, and the children are
restored to their parents in the midst of festive rejoicing.
The poem is dramatic, because it is acted and spoken or sung in character
by its persons. It is allegorical, because it inculcates a moral, and
more is meant than meets the ear. In parts it is pastoral, both because
the chief personage appears in the guise of a shepherd, and because its
motive largely depends on the superstitions and traditions of simple,
ignorant folk. In the longer speeches, where events are narrated with
some fulness, it becomes epic. Lastly, in its songs, in the octosyllables
of the magician, and in the adjuration and the thanking of Sabrina, it is
lyric. With iambic pentameter as the basis of the dialogue, the poet
varies his measures as Shakespeare does his, and with very similar ends
The name Comus Milton found ready to his hand. As a common noun, the
Greek word comus signifies carousal,--wassail. In the later classic
period it had become a proper name, standing for a personification of
nocturnal revelry, and a god Comus was frequently depicted on vases and
in mural paintings. Philostratus, in his Ikones,--or Pictures,--gives
an interesting description of a painting of this god. See Encyclopædia
Britannica, article Comus. Ben Jonson, in his mask, Pleasure
Reconciled to Virtue, played in 1619, presents a Comus as "the god of
cheer, or the belly, riding in triumph, his head crowned with roses and
other flowers, his hair curled." The character and the name were the
common property of mask-writers.
The great distinction of Comus is its beauty, maintained at height
through a thousand lines of supremely perfect verse. Greatly dramatic it
of course is not. It yields its meaning to the most cursory reading; it
has no mystery. It is simply beautiful, with a sustained beauty elsewhere
The following letter of Sir Henry Wotton to the Author deserves to be
read both for its engaging style as a piece of English prose and for its
exquisite characterization of Comus. Wotton was a versatile scholar,
diplomat, and courtier, seventy years old at the time of this letter,
with a reputation as a kindly and appreciative literary critic. He was
now residing at Eton College, where he held the office of Provost.
Milton, thirty years of age, the first edition of his Comus recently
published anonymously, had good cause for elation over such a testimonial
from such a source.
"From the College, this 13 of April, 1638.
"It was a special favour when you lately bestowed upon me here the first
taste of your acquaintance, though no longer than to make me know that I
wanted more time to value it and to enjoy it rightly; and, in truth, if I
could then have imagined your farther stay in these parts, which I
understood afterwards by Mr. H., I would have been bold, in our vulgar
phrase, to mend my draught (for you left me with an extreme thirst), and
to have begged your conversation again, jointly with your said learned
friend, over a poor meal or two, that we might have banded together some
good Authors of the ancient time; among which I observed you to have been
"Since your going, you have charged me with new obligations, both for a
very kind letter from you dated the 6th of this month, and for a dainty
piece of entertainment which came therewith. Wherein I should much
commend the tragical part, if the lyrical did not ravish me with a
certain Doric delicacy in your Songs and Odes, whereunto I must plainly
confess to have seen yet nothing parallel in our language: Ipsa
mollities. But I must not omit to tell you that I now only owe you
thanks for intimating unto me (how modestly soever) the true artificer.
For the work itself I had viewed some good while before with singular
delight; having received it from our common friend Mr. R., in the very
close of the late R.'s Poems, printed at Oxford: whereunto it was added
(as I now suppose) that the accessory might help out the principal,
according to the art of Stationers, and to leave the reader con la bocca
"Now, Sir, concerning your travels; wherein I may challenge a little more
privilege of discourse with you. I suppose you will not blanch Paris in
your way: therefore I have been bold to trouble you with a few lines to
Mr. M. B., whom you shall easily find attending the young Lord S. as his
governor; and you may surely receive from him good directions for the
shaping of your farther journey into Italy where he did reside, by my
choice, some time for the King, after mine own recess from Venice.
"I should think that your best line will be through the whole length of
France to Marseilles, and thence by sea to Genoa; whence the passage into
Tuscany is as diurnal as a Gravesend barge. I hasten, as you do, to
Florence or Siena, the rather to tell you a short story, from the
interest you have given me in your safety.
"At Siena I was tabled in the house of one Alberto Scipioni, an old Roman
courtier in dangerous times; having been steward to the Duca di Pagliano,
who with all his family were strangled, save this only man that escaped
by foresight of the tempest. With him I had often much chat of those
affairs, into which he took pleasure to look back from his native
harbour; and at my departure toward Rome (which had been the centre of
his experience), I had won his confidence enough to beg his advice how I
might carry myself there without offence of others or of mine own
conscience. 'Signor Arrigo mio,' says he, 'I pensieri stretti ed il
viso sciolto will go safely over the whole world.' Of which Delphian
oracle (for so I have found it) your judgment doth need no commentary;
and therefore, Sir, I will commit you, with it, to the best of all
securities, God's dear love, remaining
"Your friend, as much to command as any of longer date,
"Sir: I have expressly sent this my footboy to prevent your departure
without some acknowledgment from me of the receipt of your obliging
letter; having myself through some business, I know not how, neglected
the ordinary conveyance. In any part where I shall understand you fixed,
I shall be glad and diligent to entertain you with home-novelties, even
for some fomentation of our friendship, too soon interrupted in the
The Latin phrase, ipsa mollities, may be translated,--it is the very
perfection of delicacy. The Italian words below mean,--My dear Henry,
thoughts close, face open.
1. Before the starry threshold of Jove's court. The attendant spirit not
only announces himself as a dweller in heaven, but he specifies his
particular function among the celestials: he is doorkeeper in the house
3. insphered. Compare Il Penseroso 88.
7. Confined and pestered. Pester has its primitive meaning, to clog or
encumber. In this pinfold here. Pinfold is probably not connected with
the verb to pen, but is a shortened form of poundfold, and means,
literally, an enclosure for stray cattle.
10. After this mortal change: after this life on earth, which is subject
11. Amongst the enthroned gods. Make but two syllables of enthroned,
and accent the first.
The long sentence ending with line 11 is very loose in construction: the
and in line 7 is a coördinate conjunction, but does not connect
13. To lay their just hands on that golden key. Compare Lycidas 110.
16. these pure ambrosial weeds. Ambrosial has its proper
meaning,--pertaining to the immortals.
20. by lot 'twixt high and nether Jove. Neptune drew lots with Jupiter
and Pluto. To Jupiter fell the region of the upper air, to Pluto the
lower world, and to Neptune the sea. The ancient poets sometimes spoke of
Jupiter and Pluto as the upper and the lower Jove.
25. By course commits to several government: in due order he assigns the
islands to his tributaries, giving them an island apiece.
27. But this Isle is so large that he has to divide it.
29. Consider quarters to mean nothing more than divides. his blue-haired
deities. The epithet is conventional, taken from the Greek poets, and
probably has no special significance in this passage.
31. A noble Peer. This connects the poem with actual persons and
announces its occasion. The noble peer is the Earl of Bridgewater, and
the event which is to be celebrated is his appointment to the
Vice-royalty of Wales.
33. The old and haughty nation are the Welsh.
34. his fair offspring are two sons and a daughter, who are to play the
parts of the Two Brothers and the Lady in the mask.
37. the perplexed paths of this drear wood. Compare Par. Lost IV 176.
41. sovran. See note on Hymn on the Nativity 60.
45. in hall or bower. Hall and bower are conventionally coupled by the
poets to signify the dwellings, respectively, of the gentry and the
46. The transformation by Bacchus of the treacherous Tuscan sailors into
dolphins belongs to the established myths of that god. But Milton
exercises his right as a poet to add to the classic story whatever suits
48. After the Tuscan mariners transformed; a Latinism, meaning, after the
transformation of the Tuscan mariners.
50. fell: chanced to land.
For the story of Circe, see the Odyssey X.
58. Understand that no such distinct character as Comus belongs to the
received mythology. Milton is a myth-maker.
59. frolic is used as an adjective, as in L'Allegro 18.
60. the Celtic and Iberian fields. The god traversed Gaul and Spain, on
his way to Britain.
61. ominous: abounding in mysterious signs of danger.
65. His orient liquor. See line 673 of this poem.
72. Note that only the countenance is changed.
87. Well knows to still the wild winds. The poem moves throughout in the
realm of romance. The swain Thyrsis is in his own character a
practitioner of magic.
88. nor of less faith. Thyrsis has just been described as a person of
90. Likeliest: most likely to be.
93. The transition from the stately mood of the Attendant Spirit's
exordium to the noisy exhilaration of Comus is marked by appropriate
changes in the verse. Comus speaks in a lyric strain, and his tone is
exultant. When he comes to serious business, in line 145, he also employs
blank-verse. The lyric lines, 93-144, rhyme in couplets, and vary in
length, most of them having four accents, while some have five. The
four-accent lines vary between seven and eight syllables, many of them
dropping the initial light syllable, or anakrusis (Auftakt). These
seven-syllable lines have a trochaic effect, but are to be scanned as
iambic, the standard rhythm of the poem. The star that bids the shepherd
fold. So Collins, in his ode To Evening,--"For when thy folding-star
arising shows His paly circlet." See also Measure for Measure IV 2 218.
96. doth allay: doth cool.
97. The epithet steep is applied to the ocean, though really it is the
course of the downward-moving sun that is steep.
99-101. Milton uses pole, as the poets were wont to do, to mean the sky;
and the passage means,--the sun, moving about the earth in his oblique
course, now shines upon that part of the heavens which, when it is
daylight to us, is in shadow.
105. with rosy twine; with twined, or wreathed, roses.
108-109. Advice ... Age ... Severity. For these abstract terms substitute
110. their grave saws. So Hamlet I 5 100, "all saws of books."
116. in wavering morrice. See M. N. Dream II 1 98; All's Well II 2 25.
118. the dapper elves. Dapper is akin to the German tapfer, but with
a very different connotation.
124. Love: the Latin Amor, the Greek Eros, and our Cupid.
129. Dark-veiled Cotytto was a Thracian goddess, whose worship was
connected with licentious frivolity.
133. makes one blot of all the air. Compare line 204 of this poem.
135. thou ridest with Hecat'. Hecate was a goddess of the lower world,
mistress of witchcraft and the black arts.
139. The nice Morn. Nice is used in a disparaging sense, meaning over
particular, minutely critical.
140. From her cabined loop-hole peep. As if morn dwelt in a cabin and
clandestinely peeped from a small window.
141. descry must here mean reveal.
144. In a light fantastic round. Recall L'Allegro 34. Comus and his crew
are now dancing.
147. shrouds: hiding-places. See the verb, line 316.
151. my wily trains. Trains are tricks, as in Macbeth IV 3 118.
154. The air is spongy because it absorbs his magic dust.
155. blear, usually applied to eyes, here refers to the effect of seeing
objects with blear eyes.
174. the loose unlettered hinds. The hinds are farm-servants, usually
with an implication of rudeness and rusticity, and they are loose because
unrestrained in speech and act by considerations of propriety.
177. amiss: in wrong or unseemly ways.
178. swilled is a very contemptuous word.
179. wassailers. See Macbeth I 7 64. The word has an interesting
188. the grey-hooded Even. Milton is fond of applying the epithet gray
to the evening and the dawn. See Par. Lost IV 598, Lycidas 187.
189. Like a sad votarist in palmer's weed. The votarist is one who has
made a vow. In this case he goes on a pilgrimage, carrying a palm branch,
and wearing the pilgrim garb.
203. the tumult of loud mirth was rife. As to the meaning of rife
compare Sam. Ag. 866 and Par. Lost I 650.
204. Yet nought but single darkness do I find. The darkness is unbroken
by any ray of light.
210. may startle well, but not astound. Astound is a strong word. See
Par. Lost I 281.
212. a strong siding champion: a champion who sides with the virtuous
222. her silver lining. Note Milton's avoidance of the possessive its.
In all his verse he uses its but three times.
231. Within thy airy shell. The airy shell in which Echo lives must be
the "hollow round" of the atmosphere. Compare Hymn on the Nativity
232. The Meander is the river of Asia Minor, famous for its windings.
233-237. The mention of the nightingale and Narcissus in this passage
suggests that it may be a reminiscence of the chorus in the Oedipus
Coloneus,--"Of this land of goodly steeds, O stranger."
237. Echo's passion for the beautiful Narcissus was not requited, and she
pined away till she became a mere voice, which she could not utter till
she was spoken to.
241. Daughter of the Sphere: daughter of the air, which forms a hollow
sphere about the earth.
243. And give resounding grace to all Heaven's harmonies: by echoing back
the music of the spheres.
249-252. Even darkness smiled, as if acknowledging itself agreeably
caressed by the strains of the lady's song.
251. At every fall. Fall, as a musical term, is "a sinking down or
lowering of the note or voice; cadence" (New Eng. Dict.).
253. the Sirens dwelt on an island near Sicily, and by their sweet song
allured mariners to destruction. See Odyssey XII.
254. the Naiades were nymphs attendant on Circe and the Sirens.
257. And lap it in Elysium. Compare L'Allegro 136.
257-259. Scylla and Charybdis were dangerous rocks and whirlpools on
opposite sides of the strait of Messina. They were personified as cruel
260. Yet they: Circe and the Sirens.
267. Unless the goddess. Supply thou art.
273. extreme shift: a pressing necessity of devising some expedient.
289. Were they of manly prime or youthful bloom? Were they in the prime
of adult manhood, or in the bloom of youth?
277-290. These fourteen lines are an instance of "stichomythia, or
conversation in alternate lines, which was always popular on the Attic
stage. This scheme of versification is used chiefly in excited
discussions, where the speakers are hurried along by the eagerness of
their feelings."--Haigh, The Tragic Drama of the Greeks.
292. An ox in traces would now be a rare sight.
294. a green mantling vine. See Par. Lost IV 258.
299. gay creatures of the element: creatures of the air,--supernatural
301. And play i' the plighted clouds. Probably the poet means the
plaited, or pleated, clouds, conceiving the clouds as appearing
folded together. I was awe-strook. See Hymn on the Nativity 95.
316. Or shroud within these limits. Shroud as a noun we saw above, line
318. From her thatched pallet rouse. The lark builds on the ground,
seeking a spot protected by overarching stems of grass or grain, which
may be called a natural thatch; and if this protection is destroyed by
mowers or reapers, the bird will at once take pains to build a roof or
thatch over the nest, completely covering it, and for a door will make an
opening on the side.
325. where it first was named. The derivation of the words courteous
and courtesy from court is obvious.
327. Less warranted than this, or less secure. The lady says that she
cannot be in any place less guaranteed than this against evil, and that
she cannot anywhere be less free from anxiety. Her situation she
conceives to be as bad as it can be.
329. square my trial To my proportioned strength: make my trial
proportionate to my strength.
332. That wont'st to love. Wont'st, in the present tense, means, as we
say, art wont.
333. Stoop thy pale visage. Stoop is thus used, transitively, Richard II.
III 1 19, "myself ... have stooped my neck."
334. And disinherit Chaos, that reigns here. Chaos, "the formless void
of primordial matter," is personified by Milton here and, much more
conspicuously, in Par. Lost III.
338. a rush-candle: a candle made with a rush for a wick,--the cheapest
kind of light. from the wicker hole Of some clay habitation. Imagine a
hut whose walls are made of wattled twigs plastered with clay. This clay
when dry is apt to fall off in spots, leaving holes through which the
light within can be seen from without. A wicker hole is a hole in the
wicker-work, perhaps made intentionally, to serve as a window.
341-342. The star of Arcady is the constellation of the Greater Bear, and
the Tyrian Cynosure that of the Lesser Bear. Stars in these
constellations served as guides to Greek and Tyrian mariners.
345. Or sound of pastoral reed with oaten stops. Compare Collins's Ode to
Evening,--If aught of oaten stop, or pastoral song. The shepherds of
the Greek idylls made their musical pipes of reeds or oat-straws, and the
oat has therefore been adopted by the pastoral poetry of all ages.
349. innumerous boughs. Compare Par. Lost VII 455.
358. Of savage hunger, or of savage heat: of hungry savages, or of
361. grant they be so: grant that they are real evils.
365. Make four syllables of delusion.
366. I do not think my sister so to seek: I do not think she has her
seeking, or learning, still to do: I do not think her so inexperienced.
373-375. Is this practical doctrine?
377. Make five syllables of Contemplation.
380. Were all to-ruffled. The particle to--Anglo Saxon tô, Modern
German zer--has disappeared from Modern English. In Old English it was
often used with the force of the Latin dis. So still in Chaucer,
to-bete, to-cleve, to-rende, and many others.
386. affects: likes, has an affection for.
390. weeds, as in line 84.
393. the fair Hesperian tree. See line 983.
394. had need the guard. An elliptical expression. Need is a noun, but
is treated as if it were a verb.
395. The dragon Ladon was not able to defend the apples of Hesperides
401. will wink on Opportunity: will fail to see its chance.
404. it recks me not. The verb is thus used, impersonally, also in
407. The line has two hypermetric syllables, one after the third foot,
and one at the end.
413. squint suspicion. An epithet applicable only to a physical infirmity
is applied to a mental act.
422. quivered: bearing a quiver.
423. unharbored: furnishing no shelter.
424. Infamous hills. Accent infamous as we do now and as Milton does
elsewhere. Verses thus beginning with trochees are common.
429. Look up the origin of the word grots.
430. unblenched: unstartled.
434. Blue meagre hag. The hag has the livid hue of hunger.
436. swart faery of the mine. A malignant demon dwelling under ground,--a
441. the huntress Dian. The powerful goddess Diana, or Artemis, twin
sister of Apollo, was figured bearing a bow and arrows.
448. wise Minerva. Minerva, or Pallas Athene, is usually represented as
wearing on her breast the ægis with a border of snakes and the Gorgon's
head in the centre.
460-462. Note the different modes in begin and turns, where we should
look for similar constructions.
487. The ellipsis of we had is readily supplied. Draw and stand are
494. Thyrsis, a stock shepherd-name. The spirit henceforth appears to his
fellow-actors in the mask as the shepherd with whom they are familiar.
495-512. These lines express sudden emotion, and approximate lyric in
character. Hence the rhyme.
508. How chance she is not. Supply the ellipsis.
517. Chimeras is here used vaguely in the plural to mean dangerous
526. With many murmurs mixed. The enchanter spoke or sang forms of
incantation over his mixing and brewing. Recall Macbeth.
529. The word mintage has an interesting history. The human countenance
is conceived as an imprint, like the characters on a coin.
530. Charactered in the face. The noun character Milton pronounces with
accent on the first syllable, as does Shakespeare. Probably he also
agrees with Shakespeare in pronouncing the verb with the accent on the
second syllable, as this verse suggests.
531. crofts. The word is still in use in England, meaning a small farm.
540. by then the chewing flocks: by the time when, etc.
547. To meditate my rural minstrelsy: to play on my shepherd-pipe and to
sing. To meditate the muse is a standard expression of the pastoral
poets. See Lycidas 66.
552. What do we know was the cause of this unusual stop of sudden
553-554. The cessation of the din gave to the steeds of sleep, and to
people who were trying to sleep, relief from annoyance.
557-560. Be sure you understand the figure.
560. Still, in its very frequent sense, always.
562. Under the ribs of Death: in a skeleton.
575. such two; describing them.
586. Shall be unsaid for me: it is not necessary for me to make any
change in my opinion to make it harmonize with this new aspect of
595. Gathered like scum, and settled to itself. The two metaphors thus
combined make a rather strange mixture.
598. The pillared firmament. By the firmament is usually understood the
sphere of the fixed stars. How to introduce the conception of pillars
is not clear.
604. Acheron. See Par. Lost II 578.
605. The Harpies were monstrous birds with women's heads. Their doings
are described Æneid III. The Hydra was a monster serpent with a hundred
607. his purchase: his acquisition.
610. I love thy courage yet, though thou hast spoken most unwisely.
611. can do thee little stead: can avail thee but little.
617. utmost shifts: most carefully devised precautions.
620. Of small regard to see to: of very insignificant appearance.
621. A virtuous plant is a plant which has virtues, i.e. powers or
624. Which when I did. The modern English has lost the power of beginning
a sentence thus, with two relatives.
626. scrip, a word in no way connected with script.
627. And show me simples of a thousand names. Compare Hamlet IV 7 145,
"no cataplasm so rare, Collected from all simples that have virtue Under
634. Unknown and like esteemed: neither known nor esteemed.
635. Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon. See 2 Henry VI. IV 2
195,--"Spare none but such as go in clouted shoon," and Hamlet IV 5
26,--"By his cockle hat and staff, And his sandal shoon."
636. The story of Hermes' giving Ulysses the Moly read in Odyssey X.
"Therewith the slayer of Argos gave me the plant that he had plucked from
the ground, and he showed me the growth thereof. It was black at the
root, but the flower was like to milk. Moly the gods call it, but it is
hard for mortal men to dig; howbeit with the gods all things are
638. He called it Hæmony. Hæmony is a nonce-word of Milton's own
coining. He may have derived it from a Greek word meaning skilful or
from another meaning blood.
640. mildew blast, or damp. Blast is defined by Dr. Murray: "A sudden
infection destructive to vegetable or animal life (formerly attributed to
the blowing or breath of some malignant power, foul air, etc.)"; and
damp: "An exhalation, a vapor or gas, of a noxious kind."
641. Or ghastly Furies' apparition: or the appearance of terrifying
646. Entered the very lime-twigs of his spells. Lime was a viscous
substance, spread upon the twigs of trees and bushes to entangle the feet
of birds. The figure is frequent in Shakespeare. See Hamlet III 3 68, "O
limed soul, that, struggling to be free, Art more engaged."
657. apace: quickly.
In the stage directions, goes about means, makes a movement.
661. as Daphne was, Root-bound, that fled Apollo. The great god, Apollo,
pursuing the nymph Daphne, Diana saved her by transforming her into a
672. this cordial julep. Julep is a word of Persian origin, meaning
rose-water. Note the poet's skill in culling words of delicious sound.
675. Not that Nepenthes which the wife of Thone In Egypt gave to
Jove-born Helena. See Odyssey IV: "Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, cast a
drug into the wine whereof they drank, a drug to lull all pain and anger,
and bring forgetfulness of every sorrow.... Medicines of such virtue and
so helpful had the daughter of Zeus, which Polydamna, the wife of Thon,
had given her, a woman of Egypt."
685. the unexempt condition: the condition from which no one is exempt.
695. These oughly-headed monsters. Perhaps by this peculiar spelling,
oughly, Milton meant to add to the word ugly a higher degree of
698. With vizored falsehood: falsehood with its vizor, or face-piece,
down, to conceal its identity.
700. With liquorish baits. Liquorish, now usually spelled lickerish,
is allied to lecherous, and has no connection with liquor or with
703. The goodness of the gift lies in the intention of the giver.
707. those budge doctors of the stoic fur. Budge is defined by Dr.
Murray: "Solemn in demeanor, important-looking, pompous, stiff, formal."
Cowper, in his poem Conversation, has the couplet: "The solemn fop;
significant and budge; A fool with judges, amongst fools a judge." A
doctor of the Stoic fur is a teacher of the Stoic philosophy, who wears
a gown of the fur to which his degree of doctor entitles him.
708. fetch their precepts from the Cynic tub: teach doctrines learned
from the Cynic Diogenes, who is reputed to have lived in a tub.
719. hutched: stowed or laid away, as in a chest or hutch.
721. pulse; conceived as the simplest kind of food.
722. frieze; to be pronounced freeze.
724. and yet: and what is yet more.
728. Who refers back to Nature.
734. they below: the people of the lower world.
737. coy. See Lycidas 18. cozened. See Merchant of Venice II 9 38.
744. It refers back to beauty.
748. homely; in the modern disparaging sense.
750. grain: color.
751. To ply, or make, a sampler, as a proof of her skill with the needle,
was, until very modern times, the duty of every young girl. The old
samplers are now precious heirlooms in families. to tease the huswife's
wool. To tease wool, or to card it, was to use the teasle, or a card,
to prepare it for spinning. Carding and spinning were common duties of
the huswife and her daughters.
753. In what respect can tresses be said to be like the morn?
760. when vice can bolt her arguments. There are two verbs, spelled
alike, bolt. One means to sift, and is used often of arguments and
reasonings. To bolt arguments is to construct them with logical care and
precision. The other bolt means to shoot forth or blurt out. We may
take our choice of the two words.
773. How is the line to be scanned?
780. Or have I said enow? In the edition of Comus published in 1645 this
passage reads, Or have I said enough? In the edition of 1673, the
latest that he revised, Milton changed enough to enow. Grammatically,
enough is the better form, as the Elizabethan usage favored enough
for the form of the adjective with singular nouns and for the adverb, and
enow as the adjective with plurals. It would seem that the poet must
have had some motive of euphony for the change he made.
788. thou art worthy that thou shouldst not know. A Latinism: dignus es
qui non cognoscas.
793. the uncontrolled worth Of this pure cause: the invincible power
inherent in the cause by virtue of its nature.
804. Speaks thunder and the chains of Erebus To some of Saturn's crew:
pronounces sentence upon his foes, condemning them to the punishments
named. Erebus--Darkness--is one of the numerous names of the lower
world, the kingdom of Pluto.
808. the canon laws: the fundamental laws, or the Constitution. Canon
law, generally speaking, is ecclesiastical law, or the law governing the
817. And backward mutters of dissevering power. The "many murmurs" with
which his incantations have been mixed must be spoken backward in order
to undo their effect. This backward repetition of the charm has the power
to break the spell which the charm has wrought.
822. Meliboeus is yet another of the stock names of pastoral poetry.
823. The soothest shepherd. The ancient adjective sooth means
essentially nothing more than true.
826. Sabrina is her name. The story of Sabrina is told by Geoffrey of
Monmouth, whose history is included in the volume of Bohn's Antiquarian
Library, entitled Six Old English Chronicles. The book is easily
827. Whilom is derived from the dative plural hwílum of the Old English
noun hwíl, and originally meant at times.
831. What does Sabrina do in this line?
835. aged Nereus was one of the numerous Greek deities of the water. He
and his wife Doris had fifty or a hundred daughters, who are called
838. In nectared lavers strewed with asphodel. The nectar of the gods,
which we usually think of as their drink, was also applied to other
purposes, as when Thetis anoints with it the body of Patroclus, to
prevent decay. Asphodel is a flower in our actual flora; but in the
poets Asphodel is an immortal flower growing abundantly in the meadows of
840. ambrosial here means, conferring immortality.
845. Helping all urchin blasts; i.e. helping the victims of the blasts
against their baleful influence. See note on line 640. See Merry Wives of
Windsor IV 4 49.
851. The word daffodil is directly derived from asphodel, with a d
unaccountably prefixed. The English daffodil is the narcissus.
858. adjuring: charging or entreating solemnly and earnestly, as if under
868. Oceanus is the personified Ocean, a broad, flowing stream encircling
869. Earth-shaking is a Homeric epithet of Neptune. The mace of Neptune
must be his trident.
870. Tethys is wife of Oceanus and mother of the Oceanids. She reared the
great goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter. Her pace is suitable to her dignity.
871. hoary Nereus. See note on line 835.
872. the Carpathian wizard's hook. Proteus, son of Oceanus and Tethys,
herded the sea-calves of Neptune on the island of Carpathus. As a
herdsman he bore a crook, or hook. He had the gift of prophecy, and so
is called a wizard.
873. Scaly Triton's winding shell. Triton was herald of Neptune and so
carried a shell, which he was wont to wind as a horn. His body was in
part covered with scales like those of a fish.
874. The soothsaying Glaucus was a prophet, and gave oracles at Delos. He
is represented as a man whose hair and beard are dripping with water,
with bristly eyebrows, his breast covered with sea-weeds, and the lower
part of his body ending in the tail of a fish.
875. By Leucothea's lovely hands,
And her son that rules the strands.
Ino, after she had slain herself and her son Melicertes, by leaping with
him into the sea, became a protecting deity of mariners under the name
Leucothea, or the white goddess. So she came to the aid of Ulysses when
he was passing on his raft from Calypso's isle to Phæacia. She there
appears "with fair ankles," and when she receives back from him her veil,
which she had lent him, she does it with "lovely hands."
Melicertes becomes a protecting deity of shores, under the name Palæmon.
The Romans identified him with their god Portunus.
877. By Thetis' tinsel-slippered feet. Thetis was the wife of Peleus, and
the mother of Achilles. In Homer she has the epithet silver-footed.
878. the songs of Sirens. See note on line 253.
879. By dead Parthenope's dear tomb. Parthenope was one of the Sirens. At
Naples her tomb was shown.
880. And fair Ligea's golden comb. Ligea was probably also a siren. In
Virgil, Georgics IV 336, we find a nymph of this name, spinning wool with
other nymphs, "their bright locks floating over their snowy necks." The
name Ligea means shrill-voiced.
887. In the reading make in an adverb.
892. My sliding chariot stays. Compare this use of stay with that found
in lines 134, 577, 820.
893. the azurn sheen. With azurn compare cedarn, line 990.
908-909. Be careful what inflection you give these lines in the reading.
913. of precious cure: of precious power to cure.
921. To wait in Amphitrite's bower. Amphitrite was a daughter of
Oceanus and Tethys. She was goddess of the sea, had the care of its
creatures, and could stir up the waves in storm.
923. Sprung of old Anchises' line. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth,
Brutus the Trojan was the grandson of Æneas and founder of London.
Anchises, in the Homeric story, is the father of Æneas. This fable plays
an important part in the ancient British myth.
924. thy brimmed waves. A river is happiest when full to its brim.
930. Of what parts of speech are torrent and flood?
933. It is very curious that our word beryl and the German Brille come
directly from the same source.
937. And yet this river is the English Severn!
957. Note the impressive effect of the five-foot line ending the scene.
The shepherds have their dance in rustic fashion. The words describing
this dance are the familiar peasant words, jig, duck, nod. The playful
tone in which the spirit calls upon the swains to give place to their
betters is charming.
964. With the mincing Dryades. "The Dryades were nymphs of woods and
trees, dwelling in groves, ravines, and wooded valleys, and were fond of
making merry with Apollo, Mercury, and Pan."
980. I suck the liquid air: I inhale the upper air,--the æther
liquidus of the poets. So Ariel, Tempest V 1 102, "I drink the air
981. the gardens fair Of Hesperus and his daughters three. The number of
the Hesperides and their parentage are differently given in various
legends. The story of their garden in some mysterious place in the far
west, where they guarded the tree that bore the golden apples, assisted
by the dragon Ladon, is one of the best known in the classic mythology.
984. Along the crisped shades and bowers. Milton applies crisped to
brooks, Par. Lost IV 237. Herrick has,--"the crisped yew," and the
American Thoreau,--"A million crisped waves."
985. spruce. A very interesting account of the origin of this word is
given by Skeat in his Etymological Dictionary.
986. The Graces and the rosy-bosomed Hours. See note on L'Allegro 15.
"The Graces were guardians of the vernal sweetness and beauty of
nature, friends and protectors of everything graceful and beautiful." The
Hours were goddesses of the seasons, daughters of Zeus and Themis. They
were the door-keepers of Olympus, whose cloud-gate they open and shut:
thus they preside over the weather.
990. About the cedarn alleys: about the pathways through cedar groves.
Coleridge, in Kubla Khan, has the line, "Down the green hill athwart a
cedarn cover"; and Tennyson, Geraint and Enid, the line,--"And moving
toward a cedarn cabinet." So also William Barnes, in his Rural Poems,
uses the expression, "stonen jugs."
992. Iris is the messenger of the gods: her path is the rainbow.
993. Dr. Murray gives other instances of blow as a transitive verb.
999. Adonis was a young shepherd, the special favorite of Venus. His
death was caused by a wild boar. The story is told in various forms.
Observe that Milton makes him wax well of his deep wound.
1002. the Assyrian queen. The worship of Aphrodite (Venus) was brought
into Greece from Assyria.
1005. Holds his dear Psyche. Psyche--the personification of the human
soul--was a mortal maiden, beloved of Cupid. Venus, in her jealousy of
Psyche, compelled her to pass through a long series of hardships and
toils. Cupid at last succeeded in reconciling his mother and his beloved,
and in having Psyche advanced to the dignity of an immortal.
1015. Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend: where the curvature of the
vault of the sky seems less than higher up toward the zenith.
1021. the sphery chime. See notes, Hymn on the Nativity 48 and 125.
Lycidas is Milton's contribution to a volume of elegiac verses, in Greek,
Latin, and English, composed by many college friends of Edward King, who
was drowned in the wreck of the vessel in which he was crossing the Irish
In its main intention, Lycidas is an elegy, because it professes to mourn
one who is dead and extols his virtues. In its form it is almost wholly
pastoral, because it feigns an environment of shepherds, allegorizing
college life as the life of men tending flocks, and the occupations of
earnest students as the careless diversions of rustic swains.
Four times the pastoral note is rudely interrupted by the intervention of
majestic beings who speak in awful tones from another world, and whose
voices instantly check all familiar rustic speech, compelling it to wait
till they have announced their messages from above. The supernal powers
who thus descend to take their parts in the office of mourning are
Phoebus, Apollo, Hippotades, god of the winds, Camus, god of the river
Cam, and St. Peter. This mingling of classic, Hebrew, and Christian
conceptions is a marked characteristic of all Milton's poetry.
Thus Lycidas is neither wholly elegiac nor wholly pastoral. From the lips
of St. Peter, typifying the church, comes a speech of violent
denunciation, in the true later Miltonic manner. In strange contrast to
this grim invective is the famous flower-passage, the sweetest and
loveliest thing of its kind in our literature.
1-5. To pluck once more the berries of the evergreens, or to gather
laurels,--is to make a new venture as a poet,--to compose a poem. The
berries are harsh and crude,--he shatters their leaves before the
mellowing year, either because he is to mourn the death of a young man,
or because he feels in himself a lack of "inward ripeness" to treat his
theme worthily,--perhaps for both reasons. He shatters the leaves with
forced fingers rude, in the sense that his subject is not of his own
6-7. A sad duty is imposed upon him, forbidding further delay on any
8. Lycidas is one of the stock names of pastoral poetry. The poem, though
most serious in its main motive and intention, is to have a pastoral
coloring throughout. Note the impressive repetitions, dead, dead, and the
recurrences of the name Lycidas in the next two lines.
11. he knew Himself to sing and build the lofty rhyme. Edward King had,
in accordance with the college custom of his time, written verses,
apparently all in Latin. Of these verses Masson, in his life of Milton,
gives specimens. They seem to be commonplace.
13. and welter to the parching wind. See Par. Lost II 594, I 78.
15. Sisters of the sacred well. Ancient tradition connects the origin of
the Muses with Pieria, a district of Macedonia at the foot of Olympus.
But the springs with which we associate the Muses are Aganippe and
Hippocrene on Mount Helicon.
19. So may some gentle muse. A peculiar use of the word muse as
masculine, and meaning poet.
23-31. We pursued the same studies, at the same college, and we studied
from early morning sometimes till after midnight. The metaphors are all
32-36. We wrote merry verse, bringing in the college jollities, in wanton
student-fashion, and the good-natured old don who was our tutor affected
to be pleased with our work.
34. Rough Satyrs danced, and Fauns with cloven heel. The Satyrs,
represented as having human forms, with small goat's horns and a small
tail, had for their occupation to play on the flute for their master,
Bacchus, or to pour his wine. The Fauns were sylvan deities, attendants
of Pan, and are represented, like their master, with the ears, horns, and
legs of a goat.
37-49. Nature herself sympathizes with men, and mourns thy loss.
50. Nymphs: deities of the forests and streams.
52. on the steep Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lie. The
shipwreck in which King was lost took place off the coast of Wales. Any
one of the Welsh mountains will serve to make good this allusion.
54. Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high. Mona is the ancient and
poetical name of the island of Anglesea.
55. Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream. The Dee (Deva) below
Chester expands into a broad estuary. In his lines spoken At a Vacation
Exercise, Milton, characterizing many rivers, mentions the "ancient
hallowed Dee." The country about the Dee had been specially famous as the
seat of the old Druidical religion. In the eleventh Song of his
Polyolbion, Drayton eulogizes the medicinal virtues of the salt springs
in the valley of the river Weever, which attract Thetis and the
And Amphitrite oft this Wizard River led
Into her secret walks (the depths profound and dread)
Of him (supposed so wise) the hid events to know
Of things that were to come, as things done long ago.
In which he had been proved most exquisite to be;
And bare his fame so far, that oft twixt him and Dee,
Much strife there hath arose in their prophetic skill.
56-63. Even the Muse Calliope could do nothing for her son Orpheus, whom
the Thracian women tore to pieces under the excitement of their
Bacchanalian orgies. The gory visage floated down the Hebrus and through
the Ægean Sea to the island of Lesbos.
64. what boots it: of what use is it?
64-66. What good are we going to derive from this unremitting devotion to
67-69. Would it not be better to abandon ourselves to social enjoyment,
and to lives of frivolous trifling? Amaryllis and Neæra are stock names
70-72. Understand clear, as applied to spirit, to mean "pure, guileless,
unsophisticated." Sir Henry Wotton, in his Panegyric to King Charles,
says of King James I.,--"I will not deny his appetite of glory, which
generous minds do ever latest part from." Love of fame, according to the
poet, is the motive that prompts the scholar to live as an ascetic and to
persevere in toilsome labor. This love of fame is an infirmity, but not a
debasing one: it leaves the mind noble. Remember, however, that the
author of the Imitation of Christ prayed, Da mihi nesciri.
75. the blind Fury with the abhorred shears. Milton here seems to ascribe
to the Furies (Erinyes) the function belonging to the Fates (Parcæ,
Moiræ). The three Fates were Klotho, the Spinner; Lachesis, the Assigner
of lots; and Atropos, the Unchanging. It was the duty of Atropos to cut
the thread of life at the appointed time.
A querulous thought comes to the poet's mind. Our lives are obscure and
laborious, sustained only by the hope of future fame; but before we
attain our reward, comes death, and our ambition is brought to naught.
76-77. But not the praise, Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling
ears. The Fury cannot destroy the praise, which necessarily belongs to
doing well. Praise here means the essential praise, which naturally
inheres in excellence, and not the being talked about by men.
The speaker is now Phoebus, the august god Apollo, the pure one, who
protects law and order, and promotes whatever is good and beautiful; who
reveals the will of Zeus, and presides over prophecy.
Phoebus has now an admonition to give and he touches the poet's ears; as
in Virgil, Eclogue IV 3,--Cynthius aurem vellit et admonuit, "The
Cynthian twitched my ear and warned me."
79. in the glistering foil Set off. See Shakespeare, Richard III. V 3
250,--"A base foul stone, made precious by the foil of England's chair."
85-86. O fountain Arethuse, and thou honored flood, Smooth-sliding
Mincius. Arethusa was a fresh-water fountain at Syracuse in Sicily, and
the Mincius is a river in north Italy, on which is situated Mantua, the
birthplace of the poet Virgil. The great pastoral poet Theocritus is said
to have been born at Syracuse. Thus Arethusa and the Mincius typify the
pastoral tone in which Milton conceives and constructs his poem. But the
intervention of the great god Apollo has frighted the bucolic muses, to
whom therefore the poet explains it, line 87.
88. Now I am on good terms again with the deities of lower rank. Oat is a
common designation of the shepherd's pipe, or syrinx.
89-90. Neptune, through his herald, Triton, pleads his freedom from all
complicity in the drowning of Lycidas. Triton sends to Æolus, god of the
winds, requesting him to cross-question all his subjects as to what they
were doing on the day of the wreck.
95-99. The winds prove their innocence, and Æolus himself comes to report
to Triton that at the time of the disaster they were all at home and the
air was perfectly calm. Even Panope and all her sisters were out playing
on the tranquil water.
96. sage Hippotades. Æolus was the son of Hippotes. See all about him in
Odyssey, book X. Read also Ruskin, Queen of the Air, section 19.
99. Panope was a Nereid, one of the numerous daughters of Nereus.
103. Now comes another grand personage to make inquiry about the death of
Lycidas. Camus, the deity of the river Cam, stands for the University of
104. His mantle hairy, and his bonnet sedge. The river god is represented
as wearing a mantle made of water-grasses and reeds.
105-106. These lines refer to certain markings on the water-plants of the
Cam, said to be correctly described here by the poet. The dimness of the
figures may suggest the great age of the university, and the tokens of
woe belong to the present occasion.
106. that sanguine flower inscribed with woe. This is the hyacinth, the
flower that sprang up on the spot where the youth Hyacinthus had been
accidentally slain by Apollo. The petals of the hyacinth are said to be
marked with the Greek letters AI AI, which form an interjection
107. Lycidas was one of those collegians whose scholarship, character,
and piety promise to make them the pride of their Alma Mater.
109. The Pilot of the Galilean Lake. See Matthew XIV.
110. Two massy keys he bore of metals twain. See Matthew XVI 19. See also
Comus 13 and Par. Lost III 485. The idea of two keys, one of gold and
one of iron, is not in the Bible.
112. He shook his mitred locks. St. Peter wears the mitre as bishop.
113-131. St. Peter makes but little reference to Lycidas, and his words
add almost nothing to the elegiac character of the poem. His speech is
one of stern and bitter satire. The second period of Milton's life, which
is to be given up to intense and uncompromising partisanship in religion
and politics, foreshadows itself in these lines.
114. Enow is here used in its proper plural sense. See note on Comus 780.
115. climb into the fold. See John X 1. The metaphor of sheep and
herdsmen is continued throughout the speech.
119. Blind mouths! As the relative pronoun beginning the next clause
refers to this exclamation, mouths must be taken as a bold metaphor
meaning men who are all mouth, or are supremely greedy and selfish.
Moreover, they are blind.
122. What recks it them? See note on Comus 404. They are sped: they have
succeeded in their purpose. See Antony and Cleopatra II 3 35. Note also
the phrase of greeting, bid God speed, as in 2 John I 10, 11, King
123. their lean and flashy songs: their sermons.
Evidently Milton can cull words of extreme disparagement and vilification
as well as words of unapproachable poetic beauty.
125-127. The congregations are not edified. The miserable preaching they
listen to fails to keep them sound in doctrine. They grow lax in their
faith, and heretical opinions become fashionable.
128. the grim wolf with privy paw is undoubtedly the Roman church.
130-131. These lines evidently denounce some terrible retribution that is
sure ere long to overtake the corrupt clergy described in the preceding
passage. The two-handed engine at the door, that stands ready to smite
once and smite no more, has never been definitely explained. We naturally
think of the headsman's axe, which, however, does not become applicable
till the execution of Archbishop Laud, an event not to take place till
eight years after the composition of the poem. It has been suggested that
Milton had in mind the two houses of Parliament, or the Parliament and
the Army, as the agency through which reform was to be effected. We must
remember that Milton in 1637 could not foresee the Civil War. He may have
meant to combine certain scriptural expressions into a mysteriously
suggestive and oracular prediction, without having in view any single and
132. Return, Alpheus. The Alpheus was a river of the Peloponnesus, said
to sink underground and to flow beneath the sea to Ortygia, near
Syracuse, where it attempted to mingle its waters with those of the
fountain Arethusa. See note on lines 85, 86. See also Shelley's poem,
The pastoral tone of lightness and simplicity could not be maintained
while St. Peter spoke. But now the Sicilian Muse returns, all the more
lovely for the contrast with the stern malediction that has gone before.
134-151. Milton is fond of thus collecting names of persons, places, and
things, choosing them as well for their effect on the ear as for their
significance. The botany of this passage is of little consequence: it
matters not whether all these flowers could, or could not, be collected
at the same season, or whether they could be found at the time of the
year when Lycidas died. The passage offers a picture of exquisite beauty
to the eye, and to the ear a strain of perfect melody.
136. where the mild whispers use. The verb use, in this intransitive
sense, with only adverbial complement, and meaning dwell, is now
138. the swart star: the star that makes swart, or swarthy; i.e. the
139. enamelled eyes are the flowers generally, which are to be specified.
Scattered over the turf, the flowers seem to be looking upward, like
142. rathe is the adjective whose comparative is our rather.
149. amaranthus, by its etymology, means unfading.
150. Daffadil is derived from asphodel, with a curious, and altogether
unusual, prefixed d.
153. dally with false surmise. King's body was not found. There was no
actual strewing of the laureate hearse with flowers.
156. the stormy Hebrides: islands off the northwest coast of Scotland.
160. Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old. The fable of Bellerus is the
fabled Bellerus, or Bellerus of the fable. He was a mythical giant of
Cornwall in old British legend. Bellerium was the name given to Land's
End, where he was supposed to live.
161. the great Vision of the guarded mount. St. Michael's Mount is a
pyramidal rock in Mounts Bay on the coast of Cornwall. This was guarded
by the angel, St. Michael, whose gaze was directed seaward, toward
Namancos and Bayona, in northwestern Spain. In some unknown place between
these widely sundered limits, the body of Lycidas is tossed.
170. with new-spangled ore. Ore, from its original meaning of metal in
the natural state, comes to signify metallic lustre generally. See Comus
173. See Matthew XIV 25.
175. Compare Comus 838.
176. the unexpressive nuptial song. See Hymn on the Nativity 116. See
also Revelation XIX 7-9.
181. And wipe the tears forever from his eyes. See Revelation XXI 4.
183. Henceforth thou art the genius of the shore. This is the same
promotion that was accorded to Melicertes, son of Ino, who on his death
became the genius of the shore under the name of Palæmon.
186. uncouth; a self-depreciating expression meaning unknown or
187. Milton applies the epithet gray both to evening and to morning.
188. various quills are the tubes of the shepherd pipe.
189. Doric means simply pastoral, because the idylls of the first
pastoral poets were written in the Doric dialect of Greek.
190. had stretched out all the hills: had caused the shadows of the hills
to prolong themselves eastward on the plain.
The poet seems to feign that he spent a day in the composition of
Of poems in strict sonnet form, that is, containing neither more nor less
than fourteen decasyllable iambic lines, interlocked by some scheme of
symmetrical rhyme, not in couplets, Milton left twenty-three, of which
five are in Italian. Of the three sonnets in English omitted from this
edition, two have reference to the violent controversy occasioned by
Milton's publications in advocacy of greater freedom of divorce, and are
rough and polemic in style; the third is omitted on account of its
unimportance and lack of distinction.
In their dates the twenty-three sonnets range from the poet's
twenty-third to his fiftieth year. They are the only form of verse in
which he indulges during that middle period of his life which was
abandoned to political partisanship on the side of the Parliament in the
Civil War, and to the service of the government during the Commonwealth
and the Protectorate. If, as is now widely believed, Shakespeare's
sonnets are artificial and tell us little or nothing about their author,
those of Milton are purely natural and subjective and tell us nothing
else but what their writer was thinking and feeling. Their themes are his
veritable moods and passions. The mood is now friendly, amiable, and
serene, now bitter, strenuous, indignant, vindictive.
Wordsworth, in his sonnet, Scorn not the Sonnet, thus refers to
Milton's sparing use of this poetic form:--
and when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains,--alas too few.
The Shakespearean sonnet consists of three quatrains followed by a
couplet,--the usual English form up to the seventeenth century. Milton
adopted the Italian, or Petrarchian model, which has continued to be the
standard sonnet form in our modern poetry. In the Miltonic, or Italian,
sonnet a group of eight lines, linked by two rhymes each occurring four
times, is followed by a group of six lines linked by three rhymes each
occurring twice. The octave and the sextet are severed from each other by
the non-continuance of the rhymes of the former into the latter. At the
end of the octave, or near it, is usually a pause, marking the
culmination of the thought, and the sextet makes an inference or rounds
out the sense to an artistic whole.
Read Wordsworth's sonnets, Happy the feeling from the bosom thrown, and
Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room.
The date of this sonnet is unknown. From the fact that it comes first in
the series as arranged by the poet, it is inferred that it is the
earliest sonnet he chose to publish.
4. the jolly Hours. See note on Comus 986.
5-6. To hear the nightingale before the cuckoo was for lovers a good
sign. This superstition is a motive in the Cuckoo and the Nightingale,
a poem formerly attributed to Chaucer, and as such "modernized" by
Wordsworth, but now known to be the work of Sir Thomas Clanvowe. Stanza X
of this poem is thus given by Wordsworth:--
But tossing lately on a sleepless bed,
I of a token thought which Lovers heed;
How among them it was a common tale,
That it was good to hear the Nightingale
Ere the vile Cuckoo's note be utterèd.
9. the rude bird of hate. This gives to the cuckoo altogether too bad a
character. The bird has on the whole a fair standing in English poetry.
We must think of the very pleasing Ode to the Cuckoo,--written either
by Michael Bruce or by John Logan,--as well as of the passage in which
Shakespeare makes Lucrece ask (line 848),--
Why should the worm intrude the maiden bud?
Or hateful cuckoos hatch in sparrows' nests?
Look up other nightingale and cuckoo songs; for example, Keats's Ode to
a Nightingale, and Wordsworth's The Cuckoo at Laverna.
This sonnet Milton appears to have sent with a prose letter to a friend
who had remonstrated with him on the life of desultory study which he was
so long continuing to lead. In this letter he professes the principle of
"not taking thought of being late, so it gave advantage to be more
fit." He adds, "That you may see that I am something suspicious of
myself, and do take notice of a certain belatedness in me, I am the
bolder to send you some of my nightward thoughts some little while ago,
because they come in not altogether unfitly, made up in a Petrarchian
stanza, which I told you of."
8. timely-happy: wise with the wisdom proportionate to one's years.
Similar compounds of two adjectives in Shakespeare are very frequent; for
example, holy-cruel, heady-rash, proper-false, devilish-holy, cold-pale.
10. even: equal, adequate.
The occasion of this sonnet was the near approach of the royalist army to
London, early in the Civil War. The people of the city had reason to fear
the entrance of the cavalier troops and the sacking of the houses of
citizens obnoxious to the party of the king. Milton would have been an
object of special animosity to victorious royalists, and for a short time
he had grounds for the acutest anxiety. It is not easy to see how, in
case of actual pillage of the city, he could have made use of such an
appeal as this. The sonnet is probably to be regarded as a work of art
constructed when the vicissitudes which it pictures were happily past,
and when the poet's mind had regained its tranquillity.
1. Note that Colonel has three syllables, according to the pronunciation
prevailing in Milton's time. Look up the etymology of this word.
10. The great Emathian conqueror: Alexander the Great, called Emathian
from Emathia, a district of his kingdom of Macedonia.
11. bid spare The house of Pindarus, when temple and tower Went to the
ground. Alexander destroyed the city of Thebes in 335 B.C. Pindar, the
famous lyric poet, a native and resident of Thebes, had then been dead
more than a century. But Pindar's house still stood, and was left
standing by the conqueror, who destroyed all other buildings of the city.
12. the repeated air Of sad Electra's poet had the power To save the
Athenian walls from ruin bare. To quote from Plutarch, Life of Lysander:
"The proposal was made in the congress of the allies, that the Athenians
should all be sold as slaves; on which occasion Erianthus, the Theban,
gave his vote to pull down the city and turn the country into
sheep-pasture; yet afterwards, when there was a meeting of the captains
together, a man of Phocis singing the first chorus in Euripides' Electra,
"Electra, Agamemnon's child, I come
Unto thy desert home,
they were all melted with compassion, and it seemed to be a cruel deed to
destroy and pull down a city which had been so famous, and produced such
Who the virtuous young lady was is not known.
2. See the gospel of Matthew VII 13.
5. See Luke X 40-42; Ruth I 14.
8. Note the "identical" rhyme. The effect of such a rhyme is unpleasant.
Modern poets avoid it.
9-14. See Matthew XXV 1-13.
X (1644 or 1645).
Lady Margaret's father was the Earl of Marlborough, who had been
President of the Council under Charles I. Milton attributes his death to
political anxiety caused by the dissolution of Charles's third Parliament
6-8. that dishonest victory at Chæronea. The victory of Philip over the
Greeks at Chæronea, B.C. 338, is called by the poet dishonest because
obtained by means of intrigue and bribery. that old man eloquent is the
orator and rhetorician Isocrates, who, in his grief over the defeat of
his countrymen, committed suicide.
9. later born than to have known: too late to have known. Serius nata
quam ut cognosceres.
"In these lines, Milton, with a musical perception not common amongst
poets, exactly indicates the great merit of Lawes, which distinguishes
his compositions from those of many of his contemporaries and successors.
His careful attention to the words of the poet, the manner in which his
music seems to grow from those words, the perfect coincidence of the
musical with the metrical accent, all put Lawes's songs on a level with
those of Schumann or Liszt."--Encyclopædia Britannica.
See introductory notes to Comus and Arcades.
3-4. not to scan With Midas' ears. The god Apollo, during the time of his
servitude to Laomedon, had a quarrel with Pan, who insisted that the
flute was a better instrument than the lyre. The decision was left to
Midas, king of Lydia, who decided in favor of Pan. To punish Midas,
Apollo changed his ears into those of an ass.
4. committing short and long: setting long syllables and short ones to
fight against each other, and so destroying harmony.
5. The subject is conceived as a single idea, and so takes the verb in
the singular. exempts thee: singles thee out, selects thee.
8. couldst humor best our tongue: couldst best adapt or accommodate
itself to our language.
10. Phoebus' quire: the poets. Quire is Milton's spelling of choir.
12-14. Read the story of Dante's meeting with his friend, the musician
Casella, in the second canto of Purgatory.
The taking of Colchester by the parliamentary army under Fairfax, Aug.
28, 1648, was one of the most important events of the Civil War.
7. the false North displays Her broken league. The Scotch and the English
accused each other of having violated the Solemn League and Covenant, to
which the people of both countries had subscribed.
8. to imp their serpent wings. To imp a wing with feathers is to attach
feathers to it so as to strengthen or improve its flight. The word is
originally a term of falconry. See Richard II. II 1 292. See also
Murray's New English Dictionary.
13-14. Valor, Avarice, Rapine; personified abstracts, after the manner of
our earlier poetry.
As Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State of the
Commonwealth, Milton saw much of Cromwell, and came under the influence
of his voice and manner. Whether the great general had ever taken note of
the poems written by the secretary who turned his despatches into Latin,
or whether he gave any special heed to the man himself, with whom he must
have come into some sort of personal relation, we have no means of
knowing. We know, however, perfectly well what the poet thought of the
victorious general. Though by no means always approving his state policy,
Milton retained to the end the warm personal admiration for Cromwell
which he expresses in this sonnet.
7-9. Darwen stream, usually spoken of as the battle of Preston, was
fought Aug. 17, 1648; Dunbar, Sept. 3, 1650; Worcester, Sept. 3, 1651.
12. to bind our souls with secular chains: to fetter our religious
freedom with laws made by the civil power.
14. hireling wolves. Milton applies this degrading appellation to
clergymen who received pay from the state. His appeal to Cromwell was not
successful. Cromwell was to become the chief supporter of a church
Sir Henry Vane was member of a committee of the Council of State
appointed in 1649 to consider alliances and relations with the European
powers. Milton, as Secretary of the Council, had abundant opportunity to
observe Vane's skill in diplomacy, his ability to "unfold the drift of
hollow states hard to be spelled." Both Vane and Milton held to the
doctrine, preëminently associated with the name of Roger Williams, of
universal toleration, based on the refusal to the civil magistrate of any
authority in spiritual matters.
1. Vane, young in years: Vane was born in 1613.
3. gowns, not arms: civilians, not soldiers. The expression is a
Latinism, the gown standing for the toga.
4. The fierce Epirot and the African bold: Pyrrhus and Hannibal.
6. hard to be spelled. Compare Il Penseroso 170.
The historical event which furnishes the occasion of this sonnet is the
persecution of the Protestant Waldenses by the Piedmontese and French
governments, at the time of Cromwell's Protectorate. Cromwell's vigorous
and successful intervention was the means of staying this horror, and
gives evidence of the respect entertained for his government among the
states of Europe.
4. when all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones. Christianity had
been introduced into the Waldensian country while Britain was still
5. their groans Who were thy sheep: the groans of those who were.
12. The triple Tyrant. The Pope, who wore a triple crown.
14. the Babylonian woe. The puritans interpreted the Babylon of
Revelation as the church of Rome. See Revelation XVIII.
The sonnet, says Masson, may have been written any time between 1652 and
2. Ere half my days. Milton's blindness is considered to have become
total in 1652, when he was at the age of forty-four. How shall we
understand these words?
3. See the Parable of the Talents, Matthew XXV.
8. I fondly ask. See note on Il Pens. 6.
Probable date, 1655. Of the Mr. Lawrence to whom the sonnet is addressed
nothing is certainly known.
6. Favonius is the Latin name for Zephyrus, the west wind.
10. Attic: refined, delicate, poignant.
13. and spare To interpose them oft: refrain from too free enjoyment of
The second sonnet to Cyriac Skinner determines its own date as 1655, and
this one is probably to be assigned to the same year.
But little is known of the person to whom this sonnet and the next one
are addressed, except what we learn from the sonnets themselves,--that he
was an intimate and esteemed friend of Milton. He may have been one of
Milton's pupils; and he may, when his old teacher had become blind, have
rendered him important services as amanuensis or as reader.
1-4. Cyriac Skinner's mother was daughter of the famous lawyer and judge,
Sir Edward Coke.
2. Themis is personified law, this being the meaning of the Greek word.
7. Let Euclid rest, and Archimedes pause: intermit for a day your severe
8. And what the Swede intend, and what the French: and pay no heed to
1. this three years' day: three years ago to-day.
10. Milton's duties as Latin secretary to the government were exceedingly
Milton's second wife died in February, 1658; her child lived but a short
time. At the time of his second marriage Milton had been blind several
years. Notice the reference in the sonnet to the sense of sight: in his
dream he saw.
2. like Alcestis. Read the story of the Love of Alcestis in William
Morris's Earthly Paradise; and read in Euripides, "That strangest,
saddest, sweetest song of his, Alkestis."
6. Purification in the Old Law. See Leviticus XII.