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Hbnce loathed Melancholy,
Of Cerberus1 and blackest Midnight born, In Stygian cave forlorn,
'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy, Find out some uncouth cell,
Where brooding darkness spreads his jealous wings, And the night raven sings;
There under ebon shades, and low-browed rocks,
In dark Cimmerian3 desert ever dwell.
1 This and the following poem are exquisitely beautiful in themselves, hut appear much more beautiful when they are considered as they were written, in contrast with each other. There is a great 'variety of pleasing images in each of them; and it is remarkable that the poet represents several of the same objects as exciting both mirth and melancholy, and affecting us differently according to the different dispositions and affections of the soul. This is nature and experience. He derives the title of both poems from the Italian, which language was then principally in vogue. L'AUegro is the cheerful, merry man; and, in this poem, he describes the course of mirth, in the country and in the city, from morning till noon, and from noon till night: and possibly he might have this in his thoughts, when he said afterwards in his "Areopagitica," "There be delights, there be recreations and jolly pastimes that will fetch the day about from sun to sun, and rock the tedious year as in a delightful dream." Vol. i. p. 154.—Newton.
2 Erebus, the conjecture of Upton and Newton, is more agreeable to mythology.
8 The Cimmerians lived in caves, and never saw the light of the sun. See Homer, Od. xi. 14; Tibull. iv. i. 65.
4 The more ancient opinion makes the graces spring from Jupiter and Eurynome.
i This is merely Milton's fiction, as no such account is given elsewhere.
As he met her once a maying,
There on beds of violets blue,
And fresh-blown roses washed in dew,
Tilled her with thee a daughter fair,
So buxom, blithe, and debonair.
Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee
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;
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,
The mountain nymph,1 sweet Liberty;
And if I give thee honour due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
To live with her, and live with thee,
In unreproved pleasures free;
To bear 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,
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,
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,
Through the high wood echoing shrill:
Some time walking not unseen
By hedge-row elms, on hillocks green,
Right against the eastern gate,
Where the great sun begins his state,
• So called, probably because those nations which dwell OB mountains have preserved their liberty longest and most perseveringly.
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,
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,
Russet lawns, and fallows gray,
Where the nibbling flocks do stray,8
Mountains on whose barren breast
The labouring clouds do often rest,
Meadows trim with daisies pied,
Shallow brooks, and rivers wide
Towers and battlements it sees
Bosomed high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies,
The Cynosure3 of neighbouring eyes.
Hard by, a cottage chimney smokes,
From betwixt two aged oaks,
Where Corydon and Thyrsis met,
Are at their savoury dinner set
Of herbs, and other country messes,
Which the neat-handed Phillis 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.
Sometimes with secure delight
The upland hamlets will invite,
When the merry bells ring round,
And the jocund rebecks4 sound
To many a youth, and many a maid,
Dancing in the chequered shade;
And young and old come forth to play
On a sunshine holy-day,
Till the livelong daylight fail;
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale,
* Dressed, adorned.
2 Feed at large.
3 The constellation of Ursa Minor, or the Little Bear.
* A three-stringed fiddle.
With stories1 told of many a feat,
How fairy Mab the junkets eat,
She was pinched, and pulled, she said,
And he by friars' lanthorn led,
Tells how the drudging goblin sweat,
To earn his cream bowl duly set,3
When in one night, ere glimpse of morn.
His shadowy flail hath threshed the corn,
That ten day-labourers could not end;
Then lies him down the lubbar fiend,
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,
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,
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
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.
Then to the well-trod stage anon,
If Jonson's learned sock be on,
Or sweetest Shakspeare, fancy's child,
Warble his native wood-notes wild.
1 These stories, it is almost unnecessary to say, formed a favourite amusement of the country people. Shakspeare has introduced several such folk-lore legends into his " Midsummer Night's Dream."
2 Reginald Scott gives a brief account of this imaginary spirit much in the same manner with this of our author. "Your grand-dames maids, were wont to set a bowt of milk for him, for his pains in grinding of malt or mustard, and sweeping the house at midnight—bis while bread and milk was his standing fee." Discovery of Witchcraft; London: 4to. p. 68, Peck. See Keightley's Fairy Mythology. Art. Kobold.
And ever against eating cares,
Lap me in soft Lydian1 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,
"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
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.
These delights, if thou canst givo,
Mirth, with thee I mean to live.8
Hence, vain deluding joys,
The brood of folly without father bred!
Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys!
And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
As the gay motes that people the sunbeams,4
1 The Lydian measure was very soft and sweet. So Dryden, Ode on St. Cecilia's Day:—
"Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
• A charming adaptation from Shakspeare's " Nymph's Reply to the passionate Shepherd ":—
"If these delights thy mind may move,
• See note at the beginning of the last poem. The model of a great portion of this poem is a song in praise of melancholy, in Fletcher's Comedy of " The Nice Valour, or Passionate Madman."
• Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale, ver. 868.