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L’allegro and Il Penseroso
Monday June 30th 2008, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

One of the most beautiful aspects of these poems is the musical cadence that occurs throughout.  After taking eight years of piano, itis impossible for me to read these without applying musical features to both.  The diction and syntax of the poems unite perfectly with their musical counterparts.

Allegro pieces are generally played at middle C or an octave higher. They consist often of staccato notes and have a playful and young sounding melody.  In L’allegro, the musical parallel is profound.  The poem plays with these same elements, containing moments that are youthful and joyous and seem to be relatively fast paced and exciting.  It is a daytime melody, the words feel like warmth and sunshine and build in a crescendo until the glee filled ending which explicitly involves the sound of  music and reads like a clear and fluid melody.  The description of the Elysian Fields and the audible hymn hold a sort of cinematic quality with images of frolicking in a meadow in the summer.

Il Penseroso holds the opposite musical quality, resembling something like a sonata.  It would be played at a lower octave with legato notes, slow and overlapping.  There is a certain sort of control and restrain connected to largo pieces, the notes are deep and broad and move almost like waves. The poem is essentially the same in its composition, there is a certain level of control and maturity associated with it, and it has a slow and steady rhythm throughout.  It is a night poem, dimmed by a lack of sunshine and in contrast to the crescendo of L’allegro, Il Penseroso has a diminuendo effect.  It ends not in the same sort of chaotic climax, but rather flows slowly to the end where it seems to fade.

I do not think that Milton is exclusively represented in either of the poems, but rather attempts to show the balance created from two opposite feelings. Though the poems depict very different imagery, there is an essential link between them.  However, I don’t think that an Il Moderato piece would necessarily depict Milton either.  It seems as though you need to experience the insenity of both L’Allegro and Il Penseroso to the extreme to create a silent inner Il Moderato.




Very cool musical analysis. As someone without enough musical understanding to make those sorts of connections, I appreciate your doing it for me! I think Milton, in these works, is using the same associations musicians use (slow = serious, quick = happy)–that is, he’s using a shared cultural code. (And he definitely knew music, so the strong relationship makes sense.)

Comment by madelinekelly 06.30.08 @ 1:56 pm

I have to agree, I love this analysis, it really helps to get the musical thread that runs through both of them. And I definitely agree that Il Moderato would not be Milton’s style at all–he lives for the free extremes at either end. I also like the day/night comparison, I wouldn’t have thought of that!

Comment by rachel 06.30.08 @ 6:51 pm