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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 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 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 room 13 Teach light to counterfeit a gloom ;
Far from all resort of mirth,
Or usher'd with a shower still
And may at last my weary age
Till old experience do attain
These pleasures, Melancholy, give,
He puts the Penseroso last, as a climax ; because he prefers the pensive mood to the mirthful. I do not know why he spells the 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.
8 " As 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 sentiment, 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;
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
becomes melancholy in the finer sense of the word, by the combined overshadowing of the hour and of thought.
12 “ Like one that hath been led astray.”--This calls to mind a beautiful passage about the moon, in Spenser's Epithalamium :
Who is the same that at my window peeps ?
13 “ Where glowing embers.”—Here, also, the reader is reminded of Spenser.-See p. 88:
A little glooming light much like a shade. 14 “ And may my lamp at midnight hour
The picturesque of the “ be seen” has been much admired. Its good-nature seems to deserve no less approbation. The light is seen afar by the traveller, giving him a sense of home comfort, and, perhaps, helping to guide his way.
15 - Call up him that left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold.”
Chaucer, with his Squire's Tale. But why did Milton turn Càmbuscàn, that is, Cambus the Khan, into Cambùscan. The accent in Chaucer is never thrown on the middle syllable.
The poet bewails the death of his young friend and fellowstudent, Edward King, of Christ's College, Cambridge, who was drowned at sea, on his way to visit his friends in Ireland. The vessel, which was in bad condition, went suddenly to the bottom, in calm weather, not far from the English coast; and all on board perished. Milton was then in his twenty-ninth year, and his friend in his twenty-fifth. The poem, with good reason, is