L'Allegro is a pastoral poem written by John Milton. It was first published on his collected work "Poems" in 1645. L'Allegro when translated literally means "the happy man" and it is usually looked at in conjunction with the mirroring pastoral poem "Il Penseroso" - he melancholy man, with which it obviously contrasts in terms of mood but the poems are similar in that they both depict a similar day spent in thought and contemplation.
It is not known when Milton composed the two poems because they are not included in Milton's Trinity College manuscript of poetry but the settings that are used in the poems are reminiscent of the scenery of Cambridge and so it is supposed that they were composed either towards the end of his university career or shortly after he had left Cambridge for his family's home in Buckinghamshire. The poems were both first published in The Poems Of Mr John Milton Both english and Latin, compos'd at several times. The work is dated 1645 but was most likely published early in 1646. Within this collection they served both as the balance to each other but also to his Latin pastoral poems, Elegia 1 and Elegia 6.
Milton stays true to his signature classical hymn structure when he invokes Mirth and her divine parentage and as the Narrator actively participates in the poem. After using the stanzas to explain Mirth's connection to the pastoral the poem them answers questions that are frequently raised in Elizabethan poetry particularly by Christopher Marlowe The theme of the poem is comparing and contrasting the degrees of pleasure associated with the adoption of different lifestyles that Milton could choose or might decide to experience. The poem also shows that whilst he is a student of Christianity he is also still very influenced by myth and certain folk stories. The poem uses allegorical figures of enjoyment and merriment to depict a day in the life of the countryside and this has caused them to be classified as pastoral and also as part of classical philosophy and Renaissance poetry by various critics and Elizabethan authorities.
During the eighteenth century the poems were widely mimicked by other poets and were very popular. William Blake, the poet who was greatly influenced by Milton's style and subject matter, engraved illustrations to both poems. The poems' influence can also be seen in classical music as both Hamdel's L'Allegro, il Pensero ed il Moderato and Charles Villiets Stanford's 5th Symphony are both based on these poems.