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JOHN MILTON (1608–1674)

Milton belonged to a London Puritan family, and when he went up to Cambridge at the end of James I's reign, it was with the intention of becoming a clergyman of the Church of England, in which the Puritans were then a party, hoping to substitute in it government by presbyters, elected by church councils, for government by bishops, appointed by the king. Changes in the administration of the national church under Charles I as well as the development of Milton's own opinions led him to abandon this purpose, towards which all his early training was directed. He has described his serious and studious boyhood in lines 201-7 of Paradise Regained, Book I. He was deeply versed not only in Greek and Latin, but also in Hebrew, and in French and Italian, but his early poems show no sign of the mingling of Christianity and paganism which is characteristic of Renaissance thought. On the other hand, he did not share the later Puritan intolerance of innocent amusements. Two of his earlier poems, Arcades (c. 1630-3) and Comus (1634) and one of his latest, Samson Agonistes (pub. 1671), were in dramatic form; in 1630 he wrote a poem in praise of Shakspere for the folio edition of the plays (see below), and in L'Allegro he speaks appreciatively of both Shakspere's and Jonson's comedies (see p. 238). After seven years at Christ's College, where on account of his almost girlish beauty he was known as our fair lady of Christ's,' he retired for further study to Horton in Buckinghamshire, where his principal early poems were written (1632-7). He then traveled on the Continent to complete his education (1638-9), and was recalled by the political crisis preceding the outbreak of the Civil War. I thought it base,' he wrote later, to be traveling for amusement abroad while my fellow citizens were fighting for liberty at home.' Milton fought, not with the sword, but with the pen. He perceived that there were three species of liberty which are essential to the happiness of social life religious, domestic and civil.' In 1641-2 he took an active part in the controversy that was raging as to the government of the Church by bishops, which appeared to him contrary to religious liberty. His marriage in 1643 to Mary Powell, daughter of a Cavalier and half his own age, turned out unhappily; she found life with the poet and pamphleteer very solitary' and too philosophical,' and after a month's experience of it returned to her father's house. This led Milton to publish a series of pamphlets in favor of divorce, and he was said to be contemplating a marriage with Miss Davis, the virtuous young lady' of Sonnet IX (see p. 242) but, when this came to his wife's ears, she sought and obtained a reconciliation. In 1644 he wrote two important tracts one on education, and another on the freedom of the press (Areopagitica). In 1649 he took up the defence of the Commonwealth for the execution of Charles I, and as Latin Secretary to the Council of State continued his task with a devotion which involved the sacrifice of his eye-sight (see Sonnets, pp. 243-4). His pen was still active on behalf of religious toleration and republican government when the Restoration drove him into hiding; he was arrested, but suffered no harm beyond a short imprisonment and the burning of his books by the hangman. He lost, of course, his Latin secretaryship, and the destruction of some of his property by the fire of London brought him into straitened circumstances; but his tastes were simple, and bating not a jot of heart or hope' he returned to his studies. He wrote a history, a logic, a Latin grammar, a compendium of theology; but the great works of his later years were Paradise Lost (published 1667), and Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes (1671). He chose the subject of Paradise Lost out of some hundred which he jotted down about 1640, and wrote a small part of it, but the great design was interrupted by the Civil War, resumed in 1658, and completed in 1663 or 1665.


What needs my Shakspere for his honored

The labor of an age in pilèd stones?
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?

Dear son of memory, great heir of fame, 5

What need'st thou such weak witness of
thy name?

Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a livelong monument.
For whilst, to the shame of slow-endeavor-
ing art,

Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book

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As ragged as thy locks,

In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.

But come, thou goddess fair and free,

In heaven yclept Euphrosyne,
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.




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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 hedgerow elms, on hillocks green,
Right against the eastern gate
Where the great sun begins his state
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.






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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, sweet Liberty;
And, if I give thee honor due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,

To live with her, and live with thee,
In unreproved pleasures free:-

To hear the lark begin his flight, And, singing, startle the dull night, From his watch-tower in the skies, Till the dappled dawn doth rise;


Of herbs, and other country messes, Which the neat-handed Phyllis dresses; And then in haste her bower she leaves, With Thestylis to bind the sheaves,


Or, if the earlier season lead,

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How fairy Mab the junkets eat;
She was pinched, and pulled she said;
And he, by friar's lantern led,
Tells how the drudging goblin sweat
To earn his cream-bowl duly set,
When, in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
His shadowy flail hath threshed the corn
That ten day-laborers could not end;
Then lies him down the lubber 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 Shakspere, Fancy's child,
Warble his native wood-notes wild.

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Come, pensive nun, devout and pure, Sober, steadfast, and demure, All in a robe of darkest grain


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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, 145
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 give,
Mirth, with thee I mean to live.


Hence, vain deluding joys,

The brood of Folly, without father bred! How little you bested,

Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys!


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, 46
And hears the Muses, in a ring,
Aye round about Jove's altar sing.
And add to these retirèd Leisure,

That in trim gardens takes his pleasure. 50
But first, and chiefest, with thee bring,
Him that yon soars on golden wing,
Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,
The cherub Contemplation;

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 accustomed oak.



Sweet bird, that shunn'st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy!
Thee, chantress, 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 had been led astray
Through the heaven's wide pathless way, 70
And oft, as if her head she bowed,
Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
Oft, on a plat of rising ground,
I hear the far-off curfew sound
Over some wide watered 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
Teach light to counterfeit a gloom;
Far from all resort of mirth,



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Save the cricket on the hearth,"

Or the bellman's drowsy charm

Hide me from day's garish eye,

To bless the doors from nightly harm. Or let my lamp, at midnight hour,

While the bee, with honied thigh,


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Ee seen in some high lonely tower Where I may oft outwatch the Bear With thrice great Hermes, or unsphere The spirit of Plato, to unfold What worlds or what vast regions hold The immortal mind that hath forsook Her mansion in this fleshly nook, And of those demons that are found h fire, air, flood, or underground, Whose power hath a true consent, With planet or with element. Sometime let gorgeous Tragedy, a sceptered pall, come sweeping by, Fresenting Thebes, or Pelops' line, Or the tale of Troy divine, Or what (though rare) of later age Ennobled hath the buskined stage. But, O, sad virgin! that thy power light raise Musæus from his bower; bid the soul of Orpheus sing ich notes as, warbled to the string, rew iron tears down Pluto's cheek, nd made hell grant what love did seek; call up him that left half told

The story of Cambuscan bold,

Camball, and of Algarsife,

And who had Canacé to wife

hat owned the virtuous ring and glass, nd of the wondrous horse of brass, which the Tartar king did ride; And if aught else great bards beside sage and solemn tunes have sung, f tourneys, and of trophies hung,


Sent by some spirit to mortals good,
Or the unseen genius of the wood.
But let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloister's pale,
And love the high embowèd roof,
With antique pillars massy proof,
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light:
There let the pealing organ blow



To the full-voiced choir below

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And may at last my weary age Find out the peaceful hermitage, The hairy gown and mossy cell, Where I may sit and rightly spell Of every star that heaven doth shew, And every herb that sips the dew, Till old experience do attain To something like prophetic strain. These pleasures, Melancholy, give, And I with thee will choose to live.



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And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud! For we were nursed upon the self-same hill,

Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill.

Together both, ere the high lawns appeared Under the opening eyelids of the morn, 26 We drove a-field, and both together heard What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,

Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night,

Oft till the star that rose at evening bright Toward heaven's descent had sloped his westering wheel.


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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

(That last infirmity of noble mind)


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 the abhorrèd shears


And slits the thin-spun life. But not the praise,'

Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling


'Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,

Nor in the glistering foil

Set off to the world, nor in broad rumor



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