ePub 版
[ocr errors]

legends, Tithonus, the brother of Priam, and Eos or Aurora, were the parents of these dark beauties.

19-21. that starred Ethiop queen that strove," etc. Cassiope, wife of Cepheus, King of the Ethiopians, and mother of Andromeda, challenged the Nereids for the superiority of beauty. In revenge, they got Poseidon to send a ravaging monster into Ethiopia; and Andromeda was about to be sacrificed to this monster, when she was saved by her lover Perseus. Cassiope was raised to heaven and turned into the constellation Cassiopæia : hence Milton's epithet of " starred.Her daughter Andromeda had afterwards the same honour. -Warton had seen, in books, an old Gothic astronomical print in which Cassiope was represented as a black female figure marked with white stars. He suggests that Milton must have seen the same, and that “starred” may thus more easily have come into his mind. Warton, Mr. Bowle, and others, also found in the whole description of Melancholy in the Penseroso, from line 12 onwards, traces of Milton's acquaintance with Albert Dürer's print of Melancholia.

23-30. Thee bright-haired Vesta . to solitary Saturn,etc. : As Milton had invented a genealogy for Mirth (L'Allegro, 1424), so now, with even more subtlety of significance, he invents one for Melancholy. She is the daughter of the solitary Saturn (from whose name and disposition our word saturnine) by his own child Vesta or Hestia, the goddess of the domestic hearth; and she was born in the far primeval time, while Saturn still reigned as the supreme God and had not been dispossessed by his son Zeus. That Milton here implied that Melancholy comes from Solitude or Retirement cannot be doubted; the question is as to the meaning of the other form of the parentage. Is Vesta to be taken simply as the Hearth-affection, or pure Domesticity? Perhaps so; and to say that Melancholy comes of solitary musings at the fireside, or at one's own “ingle-nook,” would be no bad derivation. But the epithetbright-hairedapplied to Vesta, and the subsequent imagination of her meetings with Saturn in the glimmering glades of Mount Ida, seem to require a more bold and mystic view of the nature of this goddess. Warton identifies her with Genius, and supposes Milton to mean therefore that Melancholy is the daughter of Solitude and Genius. One remembers, however, that Vesta was the goddess of the sacred eternal fire that could be tended only by vowed virginity; and here one is on the track of a peculiarly Miltonic idea. See Comus, 783—789, Elegia Sexta, 55—66, and a famous autobiographic passage in the prose Apology for Smectymnuus.

31. pensive Nun.” Does not the immediate occurrence in

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Milton's mind of this epithet for Melancholy give an additional likelihood to the suggestion in the end of last note ?

33. "grain: colour. See note, Par. Lost, V. 285.

35. sable stole of cypress lawn: i.e. scarf or mantilla of fine black linen crape.

Some derive the word cypress in this sense from the old French word crespé, crisped or curled (modern crêpé, whence crape); there is a probability, however, that this kind of fabric was brought first from the island of Cyprus, and that the name signifies that origin. Frequently, in the old poets, when the fabric is mentioned, it is spelt “Cyprus: thus in Shakespeare's Winter's Tale the pedlar Autolycus comes in with his wares (IV. 4) singing

“ Lawn as white as driven snow,

Cyprus black as e'er was crow.' But we have also the spellings “cypress," "cypres,cipresse,cipres,” etc., as if all recollection of the island in connexion with the article had been lost. Milton's spelling in this line both in the First and in the Second Edition is “ Cipres,” with a capital letter and in italics; which is his usual way of printing a proper name.

37. "keep thy wonted state" : i.e. stately mien and behaviour. One of the old meanings of the noun “state” was “regal or ceremonial chair,” or the “canopy” over such a chair (see note to Par. Lost, VII. 440); and from this meaning there were extensions. Sometimes these still implied the seated posture, as in Ben Jonson's lines (Cynthia's Revels, V. 3) cited by Warton :

“ Seated in thy silver chair,

State in wonted manner keep." But the "statelybehaviour might be maintained after the chair was left ; and Milton here, though using Jonson's very phrase, imagines it of Melancholy not seated, but walking " with even step and musing gait.”

39. commercing: accented on the second syllable, as was then rather common.

Forget thyself to marble: same idea as in line 14 of the piece On Shakespeare ; which see, and the note on it.

43. With a sad leaden downward cast.” Leaden-coloured eyesockets betoken melancholy, or excess of thoughtfulness; but see Epitaph. Dam. 79, 80 :

“Saturni grave sæpe fuit pastoribus astrum,

Intimaque obliquo figit præcordia plumbo." i.e. the star Saturn has a leaden or dispiriting influence on shepherds,

[ocr errors]


or sons of the Muses, making them causelessly melancholy. It is much to Warton's credit that, in his note on these lines in the Latin poem, he thought of referring to the present line in Il Penseroso. Leaden was the Saturnian colour; and Melancholy was the daughter of Saturn. Her eyes had the leaden hue of the blast from her father's star.

46–48. "Spare Fast," etc. A favourite Miltonic principle here. See again Eleg. Sexta, 55—66. 51–54. But, first and chiefest, with thee bring

Him that yon soars on golden wing,
Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,

The Cherub Contemplation.A daring use of the great vision, in Ezekiel, chap. X., of the sapphire throne, the wheels of which were four cherubs, each wheel or cherub full of eyes all over, while in the midst of them, and underneath the throne, was a burning fire. Milton, whether on any hint from previous Biblical commentators I know not, ventures to name one of these cherubs who guide the fiery wheelings of the visionary throne. He is the Cherub Contemplation. With Milton, as with other writers of his century, Contemplation was a word of high meaning. It was by the serene faculty named Contemplation that one attained the clearest notions of divine things—mounted, as it were, into the very blaze of the Eternal, or the sight of the Throne of God. Nay, the Throne itself wheeled partly on him !yon(A.-S. geon) adverbially for "yonder," as if the poet pointed his finger to heaven when he spoke of Contemplation. In nine other cases in which the word occurs in Milton's poetry it is uniformly an adjective,"yon flowing estuary," etc. The adverbial use of yon still exists in Scotland.

And the mute Silence hist along,

'Less Philomel will deign a song." Histis imperative, in continuation of the imperative "bringin line 51 ; and the meaning is “Move through the mute Silence hushingly, or saying Hush !-i.e. telling the Silence to continue-unless the nightingale shall choose to break it by one of her songs.”—Less or les, as a contraction or substitute for unless, occurs occasionally in old writers; and Richardson, in his Dictionary, quotes two examples from Ben Jonson. That Milton here means it for a contraction appears by his prefixing the apostrophe. This is done both in the First and in the Second Edition.

While Cynthia checks her dragon yoke

Gently o'er the accustomed oak.

55, 56.

59, 60.

i.e. “while the Moon, entranced with the song, is seen to check the pace of her dragon-drawn chariot over a particular oak-tree, that she may listen the longer.” In Milton's Latin poem In ob. Præs. El. (56—58) there is exactly the same image for the Moon in her


[ocr errors]



66 deam
Vidi triformem, dum coercebat suos

Frænis dracones aureis.” Shakespeare also, in two passages quoted by Mr. Browne (Mid. N. Dr. III. 2, and Cymbel. II. 2), has "Night's dragons," or " dragons of the night.” This is apparently a modern poetical liberty; for in the ancient mythology, as Mr. Keightley remarks, it is only the chariot of Demeter or Ceres that is drawn by dragons.—accustomed oak.” Why the epithet "accustomed "? Is it because Milton here thinks not from the point of view of Cynthia, but from that of an observer of Cynthia ? Was there a particular oak over which he himself had often watched the slowly-moving Moon? Altogether it is a beautiful picture.

61-64. Sweet bird,etc. In Sylvester's Du Bartas (First Week, 5th Day) there is a long passage on the Nightingale, in the opening of which a certain stiff resemblance may be discerned to this passage in the Penseroso. He has been speaking of other birds, and especially of the songs of the lark, linnet, and goldfinch, and continues :

“ All this is nothing to the Nightingale,

Breathing, so sweetly from a breast so small,
So many tunes, whose harmony excels
Our voice, our viols, and all music else.
Good Lord ! how oft in a green oaken grove,
In the cool shadow, have I stood and strove
To marry mine immortal lays to theirs,
Rapt with delight of their delicious airs !
And yet, methinks, in a thick thorn I hear

A nightingale to warble sweetly-clear.” Milton's fondness for the Nightingale appears not only in the present famous passage and in Sonnet I., but also in Comus, 234-5 and 566-7, and in Par. Lost, IV. 602-604, and 771, and VII. 435-6.

65. “unseen." In antithesis to line 57 of L'Allegro. See note there.

66. “ On the dry smooth-shaven green.One fancies this green to be a well-kept lawn near some house, close to the “accustomed oak” of line 6o.

67. wandering moon." Mr. Keightley cites the "vaga luna" of Horace (Sat. I. viii. 21) and the "errantem lunamof Virgil (Æn. I. 742).


[ocr errors]




69. had.Some editions have “has ”; which is a misprint. 72.

Stooping through a fleecy cloud." Every one must have noticed this appearance of the moon, when surrounded by masses of white cloud-wreath in an otherwise blue sky. Their motion is transferred to her; and she seems sometimes to wade or bowl through them horizontally, sometimes to stoop among them. 73-76. Oft, on a plat of rising ground,

I hear the far-off curfew sound,
Over some wide-watered shore,

Swinging slow with sullen roar.Milton, or Il Penseroso, who has last moment been walking, in fancy, on a “dry smooth-shaven green,” watching the moon over an oak-tree, is now on a higher bit of flat ground, the level top of some hillock, listening to the sound of the far-off curfew bell, booming in the darkness, or rather in the moonlight, over miles of scenery.

But what scenery ? “Over some wide-watered shore,” he says. Observe the word “some.It is a distinct intimation, if such were at all necessary, that the visual circumstance is all ideal,—that the Penseroso of the poem is not actually out walking in any particular locality, but is imagining himself, in reverie, here, there, and everywhere, at the bidding of his mood. Still, a recollection of some actual spot may well have been in Milton's mind as he suggested the imaginary one. The old custom of ringing the curfew at eight or nine o'clock in the evening (originally the signal for people to put out or cover up their fires : couvre-feu) was kept up in various parts of England in Milton's time, as it is in some to the present day; and, if Milton wanted to think of any particular spot, he could have no difficulty in choosing. The neighbourhood of Oxford has put in a claim. The sound of the nine o'clock bell from Christ Church is still one of the characteristics of Oxford, and is heard afar. It might be heard, say, at Forest Hill. But where in that vicinity is the “wide-watered shore”? It is suggested that the word "shore” may stand, as it sometimes does in old writers, for the banks of a river or the boundary of a lake; and, if the country near Oxford were flooded, as it used to be, there would be a sufficient “shore” in this sense. Even those who have no thought of the neighbourhood of Oxford in the passage still imagine that it is over some wide-watered shore in the sense of some inland lake or sheet of waters that the curfew is heard sounding. But why should the "wide-watered shore” not be the sea-shore ? This seems the natural meaning of the phrase ; and would it not be an omission in a poem on Melancholy if there were no mention of “the melancholy main ”? Moreover, “shore,” in every other case where Milton uses the word, is with him the shore of a sea, or of something that cannot be all seen round at once, and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »