Learn about John Milton’s lyric poem, L’Allegro, including the story and themes within the piece, as well as how it evokes contrast both within its own verses and with its companion piece, Il Penseroso.
The first days of spring are like magic. After bundling up all winter, you can finally walk outside and feel warm sunshine on your skin and smell the clean scent of grass and flowers. John Milton brings that magic to his lyric poem, ‘L’Allegro‘.A lyric poem reveals the poet’s emotions in rhymed verses. You can think of this like modern music.
The lyrics, coupled with the sounds of the music, evoke certain emotions. Likewise, the emotions conveyed in poetry are shown to the reader (or listener) in part by the meaning of the words and in part by the sound of the rhyme and other literary devices.Composed in 1645, this poem is a companion piece to Milton’s ‘Il Penseroso’, which focuses on more sober aspects of life.
Companion poems are two or more poems that complement each other, usually by showing some kind of contrast. ‘L’Allegro’ was published in a collection titled The Poems of John Milton, Both English and Latin.
Throughout the poem, the speaker directs his words to various Greek gods and personifications. He begins by telling Melancholy to leave him alone and go bother the Cimmerians, a people who dwell in unending darkness. After all, spring is a time to banish darkness. He then calls on Euphrosyne, a goddess of joy.
The speaker asks her to bring him happiness and all it entails, such as smiles and nods. The day breaks bright and cheerful around him–the sun rises and people start their day.As he watches the people, the speaker imagines their idyllic small town lives. For instance, a group of shepherds counting their sheep catches his eye, and he imagines that they’re telling stories as they guard their flocks. Each villager or bit of nature the speaker’s eye falls on is seen through his euphoria. Some of the sights include meadows full of flowers, cloud-covered mountains, and people telling stories over ale.Then, the speaker shifts to life in the city on a pleasant afternoon.
In contrast to the shepherds and village people, the city is home to knights, barons, and ladies. Again, he imagines the stories being told, but here it is not shepherds telling tales or villagers talking over ale. Instead, people go to the theater in the evening and are excited to listen to the verses and watch the action. He notes that Hymen, the Greek god of marriage, often appears at feasts that would boggle the imaginations of young poets.You know how singers will mention other musicians in their lyrics? Even in poetry, it’s all about who you know, and Milton name drops Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare. Someone reading the poem during Milton’s time would have immediately recognized Jonson and Shakespeare as stars in the realm of theater. He closes the poem by calling Euphrosyne again, referring to her as Mirth.
As you may have noticed, the poem focuses on the light and happy things in life. Milton makes this clear by banishing Melancholy at the play’s beginning. Instead, he calls on the goddess of joy and even reminds readers at the end that this poem is about Mirth. He keeps this theme throughout by summoning a beautiful spring day and discussing the delights of life in both the village and the city as the day wears on from dawn to dusk.
As a lyric poem, ‘L’Allegro’ reveals the feelings and emotions of the poet. However, emotions are temporary states, and Milton reminds readers of this by acknowledging (but brushing aside) Melancholy. He knows bad feelings can easily overtake us, but in this poem he says, ‘Not today. It’s too beautiful to dwell on the bad.’ Milton does not ignore the emotional elements of less happy occasions. Because this poem is the companion to ‘Il Penserosa’, it is part of a pair that contrasts light and dark, happy and sad.
Country Vs. City
In a pastoral poem, poets often do what Milton starts out doing in ‘L’Allegro’. They describe a little rural village and talk up how great it is to be a shepherd with nothing more to do than walk in beautiful meadows on warm spring days and tell stories to each other. Milton, however, throws us something different. He then moves on to city life and how it contrasts from that rural village. He describes the differences in the people.
But, one thing remains unchanged–the stories. Whether in the country or the city, Milton’s ideal spring day includes some form of storytelling. He doesn’t seem to favor one over the other. Rather, he celebrates the different stories and storytelling methods people can enjoy, and spring brings out the people in both places to talk and share.
Milton’s ‘L’Allegro‘ is a lyric poem that highlights the happy emotions of a spring day.
It is the companion poem to his ‘Il Penseroso’, which contrasts this poem by looking into more serious aspects of life. Aside from contrasting the themes of light and dark, this poem also takes a look at similarities and differences between city and country life. Milton shows that no matter who you are, there is always a time and place for a spectrum of emotions.