Page images

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 o,— 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.

"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; 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, though: 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?
Or who is that fair face that shines so bright?
Is it not Cynchia, she that never sleeps,

But walks about high heaven all the night?

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
Be seen."

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 Cambuscàn, 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

supposed to have been written, like the preceding ones, at Hor ton, in Buckinghamshire.

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
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
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.16

Begin, then, sisters of the sacred well,
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring,
Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string,17
Hence with denial vain, and coy excuse,
So may some gentle Muse

With lucky words favor my destin'd urn,
And, as he passes, turn,

And bid fair peace to be my sable shroud:

For we were nurst upon the self-same hill,
Fed the same flock by fountain, shade, and rill:
Together both, e'er the high lawns appear'd
Under the opening eyelids of the Morn,
We drove a-field, and both together heard
What time the grey-fly winds her sultry horn.
Batt'ning our flocks with the fresh dews of night
Oft till the star, that rose, at evening, bright,
Tow'rds heav'n's descent had slop'd his west'ring wheel
Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute,

Temper'd to the oaten flute;

Rough Satyrs danc'd; and Fauns with cloven heel
From the glad sound would not be absent long
And old Damætas lov'd to hear our song.

But, O 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,
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,

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
Clos'd o'er the head of your lov'd Lycidas? 18
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 .19
Ah, me! I fondly dream,

Had ye been there-for what could that have done i
What could the Muse herself that Orpheus bore,
The Muse herself, for her enchanting son,
Whom universal Nature did lament,

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 incessant care
To tend the homely, slighted, shepherd's trade,
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
(That last infirmity of noble minds)

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 th' abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life." But not the praise,”
Phoebus reply'd, and touch'd my trembling ears ;
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,

Nor in the glist'ring foil

Set off to the world, nor in broad rumor lies,
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 honor'd-flood, Smooth-sliding Mincius, crown'd 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;

He ask'd the waves, and ask'd the felon winds,
What hard mishap hath doom'd this gentle swain?
And question'd every gust of rugged wings
That blows from off each beaked promontory.
They knew not of his story;

And sage Hippotades their answer brings,
That not a blast was from his dungeon stray'd;
The air was calm, and on the level brine
Sleek Panope with all her sisters play'd.
It was that fatal and perfidious bark,

Built in the eclipse, and rigg'd 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 Like to that sanguine flower inscrib'd with woe.20 "Ah! who hath reft," quoth he, "my dearest pledge "" Last came and last did go.21

The pilot of the Galilean lake;

Two massy keys he bore of metals twain

(The golden opes, and iron shuts amain),

He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake:

"How well could I have spar'd for thee, young swa, "Enow of such, as for their bellies' sake


Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold? "Of other cares 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 Lol "A sheep-hook, or have learn'd aught else the lea: "That to the faithful herdman's art belongs! "What recks it them? What need they? They as "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; "But swoln with wind and the rank mist they drav "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 "Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more." Return, Alpheus, the dread voice is past,23 That shrunk thy streams; return, Sicilian Muse And call the vales, and bid them hither cast Their bells, and flowerets, of a thousand hues.

[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »