Il Penseroso

Il Penseroso Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

A person, probably a poet, dedicated to living a life of contemplation

Form and Meter

Both “L’Allegro” and "Il Penseroso” begin with ten-line introductions in which the rhyme scheme (abbacddeec) resembles the Italian sonnet (abbaabbacdeede) and the line lengths (alternating between 6 and 10 syllables) resemble the Italian canzone (alternating between 7 and 11 syllables). The poems that follow the introductions are written in couplets, with 8-syllable lines, but Milton frequently breaks his own form by interjecting 7-syllable lines. He distorts the form less in "Il Penseroso" than “L’Allegro,” which makes “Il Penseroso” feel smoother and more controlled, formally echoing the speaker’s call to walk with “even step.”

Metaphors and Similes

"Come pensive nun, devout and pure"

Milton describes Melancholy as a nun to emphasize her purity. Though she is not literally a nun, she is like a nun in that she is "devout and pure."

Alliteration and Assonance

"Or if the air will not permit
Some still removed place will fit"
Repetition of /i/ sounds

"In sage and solemn tunes have sung"
Repetition of /s/ sounds



Classical debate, classical hymn, ode


The poem moves from the forest, to a tower, to a church.


The tone is sober and studied. It can be described through almost any of the adjectives the speaker applies to Melancholy.

Protagonist and Antagonist

"Il Penseroso" only has a loose narrative, but to the extent it has a protagonist and antagonist, the protagonist is the speaker, and the antagonist is "vain deluding Joys," or the argument of "L'Allegro."

Major Conflict





"Or call up him that left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold,
Of Camball, and of Algarsife,
And who had Canace to wife,
That own'd the virtuous ring and glass"

In these lines, the speaker alludes to "The Squire's Tale," one of the stories in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." It's an interesting choice, because "The Squire's Tale" is one of the stories Chaucer famously leaves unfinished. Before the Squire can finish telling his tale, the Franklin interrupts him and begins his own story. The conflict between the two characters mirrors the tension between "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso." As in "Canterbury Tales," Milton's speakers are giving speeches about who they are, while simultaneously trying to cut the other down.

Metonymy and Synecdoche


"While Cynthia checks her dragon’s yolk”

Cynthia is another name for the moon. Milton depicts her, as she is frequently personified, as a woman pulled through the sky by a fleet of harnessed dragons.