The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This 152-line poem is non-stanzaic and is written in tetrameter couplets except for the first ten lines, which are alternating trimeters and pentameters. It is a companion piece to the slightly longer “Il Penseroso,” with which a detailed comparison must necessarily be made.

“L’Allegro” means “the cheerful man,” and the poem describes, in pastoral terms and in his own voice, the idyllic day of such a man in the countryside. It begins with the sun rising and takes the man through the pleasures of the day until the countryfolk’s bedtime. After that, the man goes to the city and enjoys his evening in more sophisticated literary company.

The poem actually begins, however, with an invocation against “loathed Melancholy,” personified as a horrific creature and seen as a state bordering on madness. In place of this monster, the cheerful poet welcomes Euphrosyne, or Mirth, who, mythologically, was the daughter of Venus and Bacchus, or perhaps of Zephyrus (the west wind) and Aurora (the dawn). As neither loving nor drinking figures significantly in the poem, it must be inferred that John Milton prefers the latter, less well-known genealogy. He invites Mirth, together with “the Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty,” to take him as one of her followers, to live “in unreproved pleasures free.”

The remainder of the poem is more a pastoral fantasy of what such a day spent in Mirth’s company would be like than an actual...

(The entire section is 481 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The verse form of “L’Allegro” is delightfully lyrical. The rhythm is light and joyful, and it is the single most important factor in creating the idyllic tone of the poem. Although the meter is tetrameter, the length of line is frequently seven syllables rather than eight. Regularly placed stressed syllables dominate; in the shortened lines, along with the rhyming effect of the couplet, they provide a strong musical beat. The stressed syllables have relatively few of the longer, “dark” vowel sounds. Consonants are also soft, as in “Lap me in soft Lydian Aires/ Married to immortal verse.” The l, m, and s sounds echo exactly the sense. The sound and the rhythm are mellifluous and flow easily in long, relaxed sentences that have none of the grammatical complexity of John Milton’s later style. The vocabulary, too, is simple, avoiding pedantic or latinate words.

The only verse that suggests any harshness is the opening section. This section also demonstrates that the poet is a man of learning; even if he does not care to show it in his diction, it shows in his easy use of classical myth. The verse form here is somewhat irregular. It alternates between trimeter and pentameter, with a complicated rhyming scheme (abbacddeec); it is basically iambic but is sometimes broken up, as in “And the night-Raven sings.” This contrast, rhythmic as well as tonal, with the rest of the poem is striking and provides a...

(The entire section is 518 words.)