In John Milton's poem "L'Allegro" poem, at line 135, why does Milton start mentioning a song all of a sudden? How can we connect the reference to song to the previous lines?Queen Mab is being...

In John Milton's poem "L'Allegro" poem, at line 135, why does Milton start mentioning a song all of a sudden? How can we connect the reference to song to the previous lines?

Queen Mab is being mentioned in earlier lines. The night comes and everyone goes to sleep. I think it's when Queen Mab shows the villagers dreams (Line 117). Young poets dream chivalry scene, then we go to London where Jonson and Shakespeare's plays are on. After those lines end, we start reading a description of a beautiful song but I couldn't make the connection with previous lines. There is no pastoral scene nor villagers mentioned before.


Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Milton’s poem “L’Allegro” is a catalogue of descriptions of various kinds of pleasure.  During much of the poem, Milton describes pleasures associated with the countryside.  In line 117, however, the speaker shifts his attention to the kinds of pleasures that can be found in large towns and cities:

Towered cities please us then,

And the busy hum of men . . . (117-18)

Among the pleasures to be found in cities are the following:

  • Chivalric, courtly pageants, often involving symbolic combat, in which “throngs of knights and barons bold” participate (119-20).  Such pageants were especially associated with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
  • The lovely influence of the “store of ladies” who watch the pageants

. . . and judge the prize

Of wit or arms . . . (122-23)

  • The kinds of courtly celebrations and masques (elaborate entertainments featuring poetry, music, and dance) that were especially prominent during the reigns of James I and Charles I.  These celebrations often featured figures from classical mythology, such as Hymen, the god of marriage (125-28).  Milton’s speaker implies that these are the kinds of imaginings

Such . . . as youthful poets dream

On summer eves by haunted stream. (129-30)

  • The reference to “poets” allows for a nice transition to the pleasures provided by two of the greatest dramatic poets of the era, Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare (131-34).  The different talents of these two renowned writers are carefully distinguished.  Jonson is described as writing “learned” comedy (132), while Shakespeare is described as “fancy’s child” who was able to “Warble his native woodnotes wild” (133-34).
  • Having reviewed all the pleasures of the city just described, the speaker now turns – in line 135 – to describing the pleasure of music. Whether he associates music with the city is not made clear.  Perhaps he is now making another major transition in his poem, just as he earlier shifted from describing rural pleasures to describing urban pleasures.  In any case, he now devotes a long passage to the praise of music as a way of defeating melancholy and combating worries: it is useful “against eating cares” (135).
  • The speaker suggests that music is especially effective when it is combined with poetry (“Married to immortal verse” [137]), and indeed in the ensuing lines it is not entirely clear whether Milton is praising music alone or musical poetry as well. In any case, the praise continues until line 144, and, in the process of praising music and poetry (or musical poetry), Milton composes some highly musical and effective poetry of his own.