Music In Milton

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade December 2001

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In "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," by John Milton, the musical references enhance the reader's perspective. The music shows the reader more fully the feelings of the speaker. In "L'Allegro," the music is shown to be a simple melody, devoid of harmony and complexities, to fill the reader's mind with a view of happiness and simplicity. In "Il Penseroso," however, the music is has the harmony added to the melody, which makes it more complex and full to show the speaker's state of meditation and melancholy.

        Milton knows that simple melodies are easily understood as he makes references to music in "L'Allegro." The speaker tells of sounds in nature that are simple and melodious,         The melting voice through mazes running,         Untwisting all the chains that ty         The hidden soul of harmony. (142-144) These sounds are easily understood. They are not complex with bass notes, or more than one line of music to hear.

The music the speaker tells us of is that of the new day beginning, and equally the sounds accompanying it. The speaker hears the sounds of the workers on a farm beginning their work for the new day,         While the Plowman near at hand,         Whistles ore the Furrow'd Land,         And the Milkmaid singeth blithe,         And the Mower whets his sithe. (63-65) These people do not despair over their work, but they enjoy it. These sounds make the speaker feel at ease with the world around him. The music that the speaker hears takes him to a place where everything is simple and good, "Lap me in soft Lydian Aires," (136) a place where ancient myths and tales of sorrow can be rewritten,         That Orpheus self may heave his head         From golden slumber on a bed         Of heapt Elysian flowres, and hear         Such streins as would have won the ear         Of Pluto, to have quite set free         His half regain'd Eurydice. (145-150) Through the peace the speaker feels from these sounds of joy, he feels as though he could take those tales of pain and give them all happy endings.

        "Il Penseroso" and "L'Allegro" are very similar in the aspect of using music to more fully involve the reader with the speaker's feelings. The types of music that are described in the two works show the state of the speaker's mind. In "L'Allegro" the speaker uses the sounds of day arising, and the sounds of people cheerfully performing their everyday tasks to show the happiness that he feels inside. In "Il Penseroso" the speaker uses the full-bodied sounds of choirs, and organs to show his deeply meditative state. The use of the music is similar, but the music itself, and the feelings it gives the speaker and shows to the reader are very different.

        "Il Penseroso," or the melancholy man, gives the reader a different type of music, as well as the speaker's mood, to view. The speaker tells of full-bodied, deep sounding instruments,         I hear the far-off Curfeu sound,         Over som wide-water'd shoar,         Swinging slow with sullen roar. (74-76) These instruments, and sounds, give us a feeling of thoughtfulness, and meditation. The reader is looking for answers or reconciliation on some matter that he is facing. He feels that if he surrounds himself with these sounds then he will receive the message that he is waiting for,         The Cherub Contemplation,         And the mute silence hist along,         "˜Less Philomel will daign a Song"¦         Sweet Bird that shunn'st the noise of folly,         Most musicall, most melancholy! (54-62) The musical interludes of the nightingale (Philomel) give the speaker a much-needed reflection into his own soul, as well as the world around him. The sounds of the church in lines 161-166 tell the reader that the speaker is looking into houses of worship for the thinking that he needs,         There let the pealing Organ blow,         To the full voic'd Quire below,         In Service high, and Anthems cleer"¦         Dissolve me into extacies,         And bring all Heav'n before mine eyes. (161-166) The thought provoking sounds of the church give the speaker a sense of meditation and fulfillment. At the end of the poem the speaker finds what he has been searching for throughout his journey, "These pleasures Melancholy give, And I with thee will choose to live" (175-176). The speaker realizes that he was looking for deeper thought, and through his thoughtful search it was found.

        John Milton greatly used the imagery of music in these two works to give the reader a sense of the speaker's feelings. "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" are mirroring works, with one similar attribute, and that is the musical imagery. The reader feels what the speaker feels through the words on the page simply because they can understand the references to the music and the sounds.