Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Restoration Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Restoration Verse.  1910.
 
Il Penseroso
By John Milton (1608–1674)
 
HENCE vain deluding joyes,
  The brood of folly without father bred,
How little you bested,
  Or fill the fixèd mind with all your toyes;
Dwell in som idle brain,        5
  And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
As thick and numberless
  As the gay notes that people the Sun Beams,
Or likest hovering dreams
  The fickle Pensioners 1 of Morpheus train.        10
But hail thou Goddes, sage and holy,
Hail divinest Melancholy,
Whose Saintly visage is too bright
To hit the Sense of human sight;
And therfore to our weaker view,        15
Ore laid with black staid Wisdoms hue,
Black, but such as in esteem,
Prince Memnons sister 2 might be seem,
Or that Starr’d Ethiope Queen 3 that strove
To set her beauties praise above        20
The Sea Nymphs, and their powers offended.
Yet thou art higher far descended,
Thee bright-hair’d Vesta long of yore,
To solitary Saturn bore;
His daughter she, (in Saturns raign,        25
Such mixture was not held a stain)
Oft in glimmering Bowres, and glades
He met her, and in secret shades
Of woody Ida’s inmost grove, 4
While yet there was no fear of Jove.        30
Com pensive Nun, devout and pure,
Sober, stedfast, and demure,
All in a robe of darkest grain,
Flowing with majestick train,
And sable stole of Cipres Lawn, 5        35
Over thy decent shoulders drawn.
Com, but keep thy wonted state,
With eev’n step, and musing gate,
And looks commercing with the skies,
Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes,        40
There held in holy passion still,
Forget thy self to Marble, till
With a sad Leaden downward cast,
Thou fix them on the earth as fast.
And joyn with thee calm Peace, and Quiet,        45
Spare Fast, that oft with gods doth diet,
And hears the Muses in a ring,
Ay round about Joves Altar sing.
And adde to these retired Leasure,
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-wheelèd throne,
The Cherub Contemplation,
And the mute Silence hist along,        55
’Less Philomel will daign a Song,
In her sweetest, saddest plight,
Smoothing the rugged brow of night,
While Cynthia checks her Dragon yoke,
Gently o’re th’ accustom’d Oke;        60
Sweet Bird that Shunn’st the noise of folly,
Most musicall, most melancholy!
Thee Chauntress oft the Woods among,
I woo to hear thy eeven-Song;
And missing thee, I walk unseen        65
On the dry smooth-shaven Green,
To behold the wandring Moon,
Riding neer her highest noon,
Like one that had bin led astray
Through the Heav’ns wide pathles way;        70
And oft, as if her head she bow’d,
Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
Oft on a Plat of rising ground,
I hear the far-off Curfeu sound,
Over som wide-water’d shoar,        75
Swinging slow with sullen roar;
Or if the Ayr will not permit,
Som still removèd place will fit,
Where glowing Embers through the room
Teach light to counterfeit a gloom,        80
Far from all resort of mirth,
Save the Cricket on the hearth,
Or the Belmans drousie charm,
To bless the dores from nightly harm:
Or let my Lamp at midnight hour,        85
Be seen in som high lonely Towr,
Where I may oft out-watch the Bear,
With thrice great Hermes, 6 or unsphear
The spirit of Plato to unfold
What Worlds, or what vast Regions hold        90
The immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook:
And of those Dæmons that are found
In fire, air, flood, or under ground,
Whose power hath a true consent        95
With Planet, or with Element.
Som time let Gorgeous Tragedy
In Scepter’d Pall com sweeping by,
Presenting Thebs, 7 or Pelops line,
Or the tale of Troy divine.        100
Or what (though rare) of later age,
Ennobled hath the Buskind stage. 8
But, O sad Virgin, that thy power
Might raise Musæus 9 from his bower,
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing        105
Such notes as warbled to the string,
Drew Iron tears down Pluto’s cheek,
And made Hell grant what Love did seek.
Or call up him that left half told 10
The story of Cambuscan 11 bold,        110
Of Camball, and of Algarsife,
And who had Canace to wife,
That own’d the vertuous Ring and Glass,
And of the wondrous Hors of Brass,
On which the Tartar King did ride;        115
And if ought els, great Bards beside,
In sage and solemn tunes have sung,
Of Turneys and of Trophies hung;
Of Forests, and inchantments drear,
Where more is meant then meets the ear.        120
Thus night oft see me in thy pale career,
Till civil-suited Morn appeer,
Not trickt and frounc’t as she was wont,
With the Attick Boy 12 to hunt,
But Cherchef’t in a comly Cloud,        125
While rocking Winds are Piping loud,
Or usher’d with a shower still,
When the gust hath blown his fill,
Ending on the russling Leaves,
With minute drops from off the Eaves.        130
And when the Sun begins to fling
His flaring beams, me Goddes bring
To archèd walks of twilight groves,
And shadows brown that Sylvan 13 loves
Of Pine, or monumental Oake,        135
Where the rude Ax with heavèd stroke
Was never heard the Nymphs to daunt,
Or fright them from their hallow’d haunt.
There in close covert by som Brook,
Where no profaner eye may look,        140
Hide me from Day’s garish eie,
While the Bee with Honied thie,
That at her flowry work doth sing,
And the Waters murmuring
With such consort as they keep,        145
Entice the dewy-feather’d Sleep;
And let som strange mysterious dream,
Wave at his Wings in Airy stream,
Of lively portrature display’d,
Softly on my eye-lids laid.        150
And as I wake, sweet musick breath
Above, about, or underneath,
Sent by som spirits to mortals good,
Or th’ unseen Genius of the Wood.
But let my due feet never fail,        155
To walk the studious Cloysters pale,
And love the high embowèd Roof,
With antick Pillars massy proof,
And storied Windows richly dight,
Casting a dimm religious light.        160
There let the pealing Organ blow,
To the full voic’d Quire below,
In Service high, and Anthems cleer,
As may with sweetnes, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into extasies,        165
And bring all Heav’n before mine eyes.
And may at last my weary age
Find out the peacefull hermitage,
The Hairy Gown and Mossy Cell,
Where I may sit and rightly spell        170
Of every Star that Heav’n doth shew,
And every Herb that sips the dew;
Till old experience do attain
To somthing like Prophetic strain.
These pleasures Melancholy give,        175
And I with thee will chose to live.
 
Note 1. Pensioners: retinue. Queen Elizabeth kept about her a body of select noblemen constituting a body-guard, and called “gentlemen pensioners.” [back]
Note 2. Prince Memnon’s sister: Huntington surmises, that the reference may be to Memera, although the name of Memnon’s sister is no where mentioned in legend. Odysseus describes Eurypylus as the comeliest man he had ever seen, next to Memnon. Milton endows a mythical sister with his same beauty. [back]
Note 3. Starr’d Ethiope Queen: Cassiopeia, wife of Cepheus and mother of Andromache. She boasted that her daughter’s beauty was fairer than the Nereids, in consequence of which they persuade Poseidon to send a sea-monster to ravage the coast of Ethiopia. As Cassiopeia and Andromache, after their death, were placed in the heavens as stars, Milton uses the epithet starr’d. [back]
Note 4. Ida’s inmost grove: Mount Ida in Crete. [back]
Note 5. Stole of cipres Lawn: usually a veil or hood; stola, or long, flowing robe of a Roman lady: here evidently a shawl or wimple (Moody), of black crepe. [back]
Note 6. Thrice great Hermes: Hermes Trismegistus (i.e., three greatest) identified by the Greeks with their god Hermes, Mercury, the Egyptian king Throth, who was to be the originator of Egyptian art, science, alchemy, and religion. A number of books attributed to him were written by the Neoplatonists of the fourth century. [back]
Note 7. Presenting Thebes: Milton here indicates the chief motives of Attic tragedy, having in mind the dramas of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. [back]
Note 8. Buskined stage: i.e., tragic stage; see note above. [back]
Note 9. Musæus: mythical poet of Thrace, associated with Orpheus. [back]
Note 10. Him that left half told: The story of Cambuscan bold: Chaucer; The Squire’s Tale, which he left unfinished at his death. The names and incidents mentioned in the next lines are in the story. [back]
Note 11. Cambuscan: the Tartar King. [back]
Note 12. The Attick Boy: Cephalus, loved by Aurora, goddess of the dawn. [back]
Note 13. Sylvan: Sylvanus, Latin god of fields and forests. [back]
 
 
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