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The two poems of "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" where mirth and melancholy are compared and contrasted, and it is clear that the poems are meant to be read together as each features a speaker who triumphs the cause of mirth and melancholy respectively. As such, it is hard to discern where Milton's own personal preference lies. In "L'Allegro," for example, it is clear that the power of mirth is very important to the speaker, as suggested in these lines:
And ever against eating cares,
Lap me in soft Lydian airs,
Married to immortal verse
Such as the meeting soul may pierce.
The speaker wishes to be so covered with mirth that it saturates both his life and the verse that he writes and enjoys, and clearly mirth is preented as something that is "ever against eating cares" that the speaker feels detracts from life and takes enjoyment away, only exchanging it with meaningless worries and concerns.
However, on the other hand, some critics find significance in the greater length given to "Il Penseroso," being 24 lines longer, and the way that melancholy is praised at the end as a way of gaining access to greater spiritual truth and enlightenment. The contemplation that the speaker gains through favouring melancholy is shown to give him access to wisdom that is in direct contrast to the somewhat frivolous and superficial references to mirth in "L'Allegro." The speaker in "Il Penseroso" talks of the power of Melancholy to "bring all Heav'n before mine eyes" and clearly in the closing lines references the power of Melancholy to give increased insight, wisdom and maturity:
Till old experience do attain
To something like Prophetic strain.
These pleasures Melancholy give,
And I with thee will choose to live.
Some critics therefore argue that the greater weight given to this poem, and the way in which Melancholy is described and referred to, shows Milton's preference for Melancholy rather than Mirth. They go on to argue that in his later works, such as the epic Paradise Lost, the greater wisdom that contemplation brings is seen in full force. Mirth may have its place in life, but it cannot compete with the greater wisdom and enlightenment that the path of Melancholy offers.
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