"License They Mean When They Cry Liberty"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Milton, the great poet and Puritan pamphleteer, wrote four tracts in which he argued in favor of a rational attitude toward divorce and the admission of incompatibility as a basis for it. Although he was an important Puritan spokesman, Milton's views on divorce were widely misinterpreted, and on one occasion a Puritan clergyman denounced them in a sermon to Parliament. In this sonnet, concerned with the public reaction to his views, Milton protests that he only advocates the sanity and reasonableness of the classical virtues and that he has been grossly misunderstood, likening his detractors to those rustics of Greek mythology who jeered at the goddess Latona, refusing to allow her to drink from their fountain, and were turned into frogs for their rudeness. He says:

I did but prompt the age to quit their cloggs
By the known rules of antient libertie,
When strait a barbarous noise environs me
Of Owles and Cuckoes, Asses, Apes and Doggs.
As when those Hinds that were transform'd to Froggs
Raild at Latona's twin-born progenie
Which after held the Sun and Moon in fee.
But this is got by casting Pearl to Hoggs;
That bawle for freedom in their senceless mood,
And still revolt when truth would set them free.
Licence they mean when they cry libertie;
For who loves that, must first be wise and good;
But from that mark how far they roave we see
For all this wast of wealth, and loss of blood.