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.)