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but because his poetry is everywhere interpenetrated by his scholarship and enriched by it.
Thus far we have spoken of these six years of retirement as a time only of self-culture and of preparation for future work. But they were years of production also, and the poems which Milton now wrote, even if “ Paradise Lost” had never followed, would in themselves have sufficed to give him a high place among the greatest masters of our literature. It is to these poems of what is commonly called his Horton period that we have now to turn.
The list opens with a sonnet as beautiful in its own way as that which had so fittingly closed his Cambridge life, but in character very different from this. Of the circumstances which inspired it we know nothing for certain ; we do not even know if it had its source in any personal experience; but it is natural to conjecture that the young poet's heart was touched either by tender passion or by the vague lovelonging which comes so easily to youth, and that he is not feigning emotion or speaking with accents of mere convention when he describes himself as, for the moment, servant alike of the Muse and of Love. At any rate, whatever interpretation we may put upon the poem, the reader will cherish it simply for its intrinsic grace and charm. As a matter of detail we should remember that, as Masson points out, there is in it" a recollection of the superstition that he who hears the nightingale before he hears the cuckoo will woo fortunately before the year is over."
TO THE NIGHTINGALE O Nightingale, that on yon bloomy spray
Warbl'st at eve, when all the woods are still ;
Thou with fresh hope the lover's heart dost fill,
First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill,
Have linked that am'rous pow'r to thy soft lay,
Foretell my hopeless doom in some grove nigh ;
As thou from year to year hast sung too late
Whether the Muse, or Love, call thee his mate,
We are probably safe in assigning this sonnet to 1632. The next year Milton wrote two of the best-known and best-loved of all English minor poems——the exquisite connected idylls “L'Allegro ” and “ Il Penseroso."
For the mere enjoyment of these poems in all the beauty of their descriptions and the rare felicity of their diction and versification little preliminary explanation is called for. Every reader will note for himself that, though each is complete and perfect within its own limits, they are conceived and wrought as studies in contrast, and that their full meaning can be apprehended only when they are taken together. Nature, art, and human life are interpreted in them as they are seen through the atmosphere of two opposed moods—the mood of gladness and the mood of pensive melancholy. In a broad way, the resulting difference in spirit and tone is at once clear. But, as closer consideration will show, the contrast is not of broad effects only; the parallelism is worked out in detail from scene to scene and from impression to impression. Hence the need of continual reference from either poem to the companion piece. It should, however, be remarked that the contrast does not lie in the difference between the same things differently viewed ; it lies deeper-in the difference between the aspects of nature, art, and human life, as selected now by one mood and now by the other. Two ideal days are represented : the ideal day of a gay, vivacious youth, beginning at morning with the song of the lark and ending with the pleasures of evening; and the ideal day of a studious, melancholy youth, beginning at evening with the song of the nightingale and, after a period of night study and a snatch of morning sleep, ending with an early service in the cathedral. It is thus the balance between these two days and the skilful way in which the particulars of the one are made to answer those of the other that we should be specially careful to observe. Both pictures are painted with a fine abandonment to the prevailing mood, and the reader may therefore be left to make his own choice between them. It is not difficult, however, to perceive the line of Milton's own preference. A comparison between the closing passages of the two poems will show that while “L'Allegro " rests in the present, “Il Penseroso " looks forward to the future. This suggests that the more serious thought of life expressed in the second poem has for Milton a more lasting value than the lighter thought set forth in the first.
While primarily interesting, however, by reason of their great beauty, these two idylls are further important as revelations of the poet's mind at the time of their composition. Their spirit is singularly pure and noble , in the gaiety of the one there is nothing that is petty, trivial, or base; in the melancholy of the other, nothing morbid or unworthy. At the same time, there is little that is distinctively Puritan in either, and much that is, in fact, quite antiPuritan in both of them. In “ L'Allegro" the echoes of romance, the dancing and rustic sports, the visit to the playhouse and the references to Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, certainly do not give us any hint of the fanatical austerity which was presently to shut the theatres, pull down the maypoles on the village greens, and turn “Merrie England" into "Psalm-singing Eng
In “Il Penseroso" the poet dwells upon his love of pagan learning, and in imagination he haunts the cathedral, and enjoys the beauty of its dim aisles, the sounds of the rolling organ, and the solemn liturgy of the English Church ; and thus again he shows no trace of sympathy with the extremists to whom all these things were anathema. For the time being, there is still far more of the Hellenic than of the Puritan in Milton, and the influence of the
Renaissance, however much tempered by the poet's profoundly religious character, is the dominating influence in his work.
In dark Cimmerian 3 desert ever dwell.
But come, thou Goddess fair and free, In Heav'n ycleped Euphrosynè, And by men, heart-easing Mirth ; Whom lovely Venus, at a birth, With two sister Graces more, To ivy-crowned Bacchus bore : Or whether (as some sager sing) The frolic wind that breathes the spring, Zephyr, with Aurora playing, As he met her once a-maying ; There on beds of violets blue, And fresh-blown roses washed in dew, Filled her with thee a daughter fair, So buxom, blithe and debonair. · The three-headed dog that guarded the entrance to the infernal regions.
: His kennel The Cimmerians of Homer (" Odyssey,” xi. 14) lived in a land of perpetual darkness.