In these lines, the speaker describes Melancholy’s “even step,” at the same time providing a description of his own speech, whose meter emulates the goddess’s “even step” through metrically consistent lines. The smoothness of the meter in “Il Penseroso” contrasts with the uneven meter in “L’Allegro,” where the speaker calls for Mirth to “trip” to him, then fills his speech with uneven lines that cause his reader to “trip” over extra syllables.
“Like one who had been led astray
Through the heav'ns wide pathless way;”
In these lines, the speaker compares the moon moving through the sky to a traveler lost on their journey. The lines echo the beginning of the Inferno, where Dante finds himself lost in the forest (“I had lost the path that does not stray”) and suddenly discovers a guide in the poet Virgil. The allusion draws attention to what "Il Penseroso" and the Inferno share: they’re both about a poet looking for a guide through the pitfalls of life. Just as Dante's speaker in the Inferno follows Virgil, Milton’s speaker follows his chosen goddess, and just as Dante’s poetry moves from the material world of hell to the ineffable world of heaven, Milton’s poem moves from the woods to music, from the material to the ineffable.
“Hence vain deluding Joys,
The brood of Folly without father bred,
How little you bested,"
”Both “Il Penseroso” and “L’Allegro” begin with the word “hence,” which can mean “in the future” or “be gone from here.” Milton uses the word in both senses: his speakers are banishing ideas that don’t correspond with their view of the world, while also describing how their future will unfold. By playing on two definitions of “hence,” Milton suggests how the two ideas are connected in his poems. In order to guarantee a certain kind of future, his speakers must banish all opposition. Their dreams rely on ignoring parts of the world, on pushing out information that doesn’t correspond to their world view.
Il Penseroso Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Il Penseroso is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.