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Milton's L'Allegro: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Background
  • 1:01 Poem Summary
  • 2:50 Analysis
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Diedra Taylor

Diedra has taught college English and worked as a university writing center consultant. She has a master's degree in English.

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.

Background

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.

Poem Summary

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.

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