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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 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.
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; 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 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
supposed to have been written, like the preceding ones, at Horton, in Buckinghamshire.
Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more,
Begin, then, sisters of the sacred well,
For we were nurst upon the self-same hill,
Temper'd to the oaten flute;
But, О the heavy change, now thou art gone,
Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.
Where were ye, Nymphs,when the remorseless deep
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 Neera'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,” Phæbus 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