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L’Allegro & Il Penseroso

• In 1991 Casey Finch and Peter Bowen wrote that neither


poems ‘can stop thinking and dreaming about its companion’

• In 1983, Gerard H. Cox wrote that ‘it is obvious that L'Allegro


and Il Penseroso are companion poems, but precisely how
and why they are related remains an open question’

• In her book The Gendering of Melancholia, Juliana Schiesari


writes that the very nature of the melancholic was to be that
of a ‘self split against itself’
‘Plotting’ Episodes

L’ Allegro – The Cheerful Man

1. Banishment of Melancholy (1-10)


2. Invitation to Mirth (11-24)
3. Catalogue of Mirth’s companies (25-26)
4. Pastoral depiction of the world (57-88) Il Penseroso –The Pensive Man
5. Concluding distich (151-152)
1. Banishment of ‘vain deluding joys’ (1-10)
2. Invitation to melancholy (11-30)
3. Catalogue of Melancholy’s companion (31-
64)
4. Description of nocturnal stroll (65-76)
5. Concluding distich (175-176)
End- rhyme – abbacddeec
(line 11 onwards rhyming couplets)

Hence loathed Melancholy


Of Cerebus , and blackest Midnight born,
In Stygian cave forlorn Hence vain deluding joys,
‘Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights The brooding folly without father bred,
unholy; How little you bested,
Find some uncouth cell, Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys;
Where brooding darkness spreads his jealous Dwell in some idle brain,
wings, And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
And the night raven sings; As thick and numberless
There under Ebon shades, and low-brow’d rocks, As the gay motes that people the sunbeams,
As ragged as thy locks, Or likest hovering dreams,
In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell The fickle pensioners of Mopheus’ train
Similar Images
Opening: Hence loathed Melancholy

Opening: Hence vain deluding joys

Line 4: Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy;

Line 5: idle

Lines 6-7: brooding darkness spreads his jealous wings


And the night raven sings
Lines 33-34: Come, and trip it as ye go
On the light fantastic toe

Lines 31-32: Come pensive Nun devout and pure,


Sober, steadfast, and demure

Lines 41-42: To hear the lark begin his flight,


And singing startle the dull night

Lines 12-13: Hail divinest Melancholy!


Saintly visage is too bright

Closing: Those delights if thou cans’t give


Mirth, with thee I mean to live

Closing: These pleasures, Melancholy, give


and with thee will choose to live
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Galenic vs. Aristotelian
• Works of critics Babb and Samuels has placed the poems in
the genre of mediaeval debate or Renaissance disputation
• Two types of melancholy
 Black melancholy responsible for severe medical depression
 Aristotelian ‘gold tinged with purple’ melancholy, the concern
of the poet
• This reading focuses on the latter as the ‘highest of mans
artistic achievements’ (Miller)
• Evidence to support this lies in the choice of Penseroso rather
that Melancholio in the title
Prioritising Il Penseroso

•This reading leads to critics


arguing Milton prefers Il Penseroso
•Ascetic life of study vs. Dionysian
pleasure seeking
•Arguably seen in his sixth elegy
addressed to Charles Diodati
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Fluidity
• Fluidly associative syntax invites reader not to
make firm choices
• No grammatical subject of many of the clauses
• Though Greene has argued Il Penseroso has
less drifting parataxis, ‘whimsically free
reading’ still creates meandering thoughts
• Poems refuse singular and simple meaning
Further thoughts
• Creation of a voice that has continuity with
other poems in the collection, leads on both
to the whimsical lovers in the sonnets and to
the erotic visions of the elegies
• Perhaps not opposing parts of
pleasure/wisdom but a warning of
intemperance in either direction- forerunner
to Milton’s examination of excess in Paradise
Lost
Frontispiece to the 1645
edition of the Poems of
John Milton
1740

International
Music Score
Library Project
William
Blake’s
‘Mirth’
c.1816-20

“goddess fair and free”


“frolic wind”
“fresh-blown roses washed in dew”
“... buxom, blithe and debonair”

Allegorical
Celebration of the happy
Pastoral
Cheerful life

Blakearchive.org
William
Blake’s
‘Melancholy’
c.1816-20

“goddess, sage and holy”


“black staid wisdom’s hue”
“come pensive nun, devout
and pure,”
“sober, steadfast and demure”
“secret shades”

Digressive
Gothic scene
Melancholic reverie
‘Milton’s Mysterious Dream’ ‘Milton in His Old Age’