Page images
PDF
EPUB

brated the learned sock of Jonson, and the wood-notes wild of Shakspeare. But he concealed his love."—WARTON.

Perhaps he was afraid of avowing it, on account of the licence of their muse.

IL PENSEROSO.

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,
And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
As thick and numberless
As the gay motes that people the sunbeams;8
Or likeliest hovering dreams,
The fickle pensioners of Morpheus' train.

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,
Qerlaid with black, staid wisdom's hue;
Black, but such as in esteem
Prince Memnon's sister might beseem,9
Or that starr'd Ethiop queen that strove
To set her beauty's praise above
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
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.
Come, pensive nun, devout and pure,
Sober, stedfast, and demure,
All in a robe of darkest grain,
Flowing with majestic train,

And sable stole of Cypress lawn Over thy decent shoulders drawn. Come, but keep thy wonted state, With even step and musing gait, And looks commèrcing with the skies, Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes; 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, 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 : But first, and chiefest, with thee bring Him that yon soars on golden wing, Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne, The cherub Contemplation ; 10 And the mute Silence hist along, Less Philɔmel 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 accustom’d oak, Sweet bird, that shunn'st the noise of folly, Most musical, most melancholy ! 11 Thee, chauntress, oft the woods among I woo to hear thy even-song : And missing thee, I walk unseen On the dry smooth-shaven green, To behold the wandering moon, Riding near her highest noon, Like one that hath been led astray 13 Through the heaven's wide pathless way; And oft, as if her head she bow'd, Stooping through a fleecy cloud. Oft, on a plot of rising ground. I hear the far-off curfew sound, Over some wide-water'd shore, Swinging slow with sullen roar: Or, if the air will not permit, Some still removed place will fit, Where glowing embers through the room13 Teach light to counterfeit a gloom;

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, Be seen in some high lonely tower, 14 Where I may oft out-watch the Bear With thrice-great Hermes, or unsphere The spirit of Plato, to unfold What worlds, or what vast regions, hold The immortal mind, that hath forsook Her mansion in this fleshly nook : And of those demons that are found In fire, air, food, or under ground, Whose power hath a true consent 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 ; Or what (though rare) of later age Ennobled hath the buskin'd stage. But 0, sad virgin, that thy power Might raise Musæus from his bower? Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing 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 15 The story of Cambuscan bold, Of Camball, and of Algarsife, And who had Canace to wife, That own’d the virtuous ring and glass; And of the wondrous horse of brass, On which the Tartar king did ride: 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. Thus Night, oft see me in thy pale career, Till civil-suited morn appear ; Not trick’d and frounc'd as she was wont With the Attic boy to hunt, But kercheft in a comely cloud, While rocking winds are piping loud,

Or usher'd with a shower still
When the gust hath blown his fill,
Ending on the rustling leaves
With minute-drops from off the eades :
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,
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,
Hide me from day's garish eye,
While the bee with honied thigh,
That at her flowery work doth sing,
And the waters murmuring,
With such consort as they keep,
Entice the dewy-featherd Sleep;
And let some strange mysterious dream
Wave at his wings in airy stream
Of lively portraiture display'd,
Softly on my eyelids laid ;
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 feat never fail
To walk the studious cloister's pale,
And love the high embowed roof,
With antick pillars, massy proof,
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light:
There let the pealing organ blow
To the full-voic'd quire below) ;
In service high and anthems clear,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into ecstacies,
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
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,
And I with thee will choose to live.

He puts the Penseroso last, as a climax ; because he prefers he pensive mood to the mirthful. I do not know why he spells he word in this manner. I have never seen it without the i,Pensieroso. In Florio's Dictionary the ie varies into an 0,Pensoroso ; whence apparently the abbreviated form,-Pensoso.

8As thick as motes in the sunne beams.—Chaucer.—But see how by one word, people, a great poet improves what he borrows.

6 Prince Memnon's sister.”—It does not appear, by the ancient authors, that Memnon had a sister ; but Milton wished him to have one ; so here she is. It has been idly objected to Spenser, who dealt much in this kind of creation, that he had no right to add to persons and circumstances in old mythology. As if the same poetry which saw what it did might not see more!

10 The cherub Contemplation.”—Learnedly called cherub, not seraph ; because the cherubs were the angels of knowledge, the seraphs of love. In the celestial hierarchy, by a noble senti. ment, the seraphs rank higher than the cherubs.

11 “ Most musical, most melancholy.A question has been started of late years, whether the song of the nightingale is really melancholy; whether it ought not rather to be called merry, as, in fact, Chaucer does call it. But merry, in Chaucer's time. did not mean solely what it does now; but any kind of hasty or strenuous prevalence, as “merry men,meaning men in their heartiest and manliest condition. He speaks even of the “ merry organ,” meaning the church organ—the “merry organ of the mass.” Coleridge, in some beautiful lines, thought fit to take the merry side, out of a notion, real or supposed, of the necessity of vindicating nature from sadness. But the question is surely very simple,—one of pure association of ideas. The nightingale's song is not in itself melancholy, that is, no result of sadness on the part of the bird ; but coming, as it does, in the night-time, and making us reflect, and reminding us by its very beauty of the mystery and fleetingness of all sweet things, it

« PreviousContinue »