1625 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

On the Death of a Fair Infant.

Poems, &c. upon several Occasions. By Mr. John Milton: both English and Latin, &c. Composed at several Times. With a small Tractate of Education to Mr. Hartlib.

John Milton


Eleven rhyme-royal Spenserians, belatedly published in 1673.

Thomas Warton: "Among the blessings, which the 'heaven-lov'd' innocence of this child might have imparted, by remaining upon earth, the application to present circumstances, the supposition that she might have averted the pestilence now raging in the kingdom, is hapily and beautifully conceived. On the whole, from a boy of seventeen, this Ode is an extraordinary effort of fancy, expression, and versification. Even in the conceits, which are many, we perceive strong and peculiar marks of genius. I think Milton has here given a very remarkable specimen of his ability to succeed in the Spenserian stanza. He moves with great ease and address amidst the embarrassment of a frequent return of rhyme" quoted in Works of Milton, ed. Todd (1826) 6:48-49n.

Henry John Todd: "It must be observed, that the Spenserian stanza consists of nine lines; the stanzas in this Ode, of only seven; in which particular, as Mr. Bowle also observes, Milton imitates Lord Buckhurst, Baldwin, and other writers in the Mirrour for Magistrates. The stanzas of Harrington, Daniel, and Fairfax, are octaves" Works of Milton, ed. Todd (1826) 6:49n.

J. B. Leishman: "It consists of eleven seven-line stanzas of a pattern only used, so far as I know, by Phineas Fletcher in some poems which were not published until 1633. It is Spenserian, perhaps, in its archaisms, and in its easy flow, but it contains conceits which are less characteristic of Spenser than (to borrow a phrase of Tillyard's) of such 'Ovidising' Elizabethan poems as Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, and Hero and Leander" Milton's Minor Poems (1969) 45-46.

Hiram Corson discusses On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, On the Death of a fair infant, and The Passion as imitations of Spenser's stanza, Primer of English Verse (1892) 136-38; see also Bohme (1911) 77-78.



O fairest flower, no sooner blown, but blasted,
Soft silken primrose fading timelessly,
Summer's chief honour, if thou hadst out-lasted
Bleak Winter's force that made thy blossom dry:
For he, being amorous on that lovely dye
That did thy cheek envermeil, thought to kiss,
But kill'd, alas! and then bewailed his fatal bliss.

For since grim Aquilo, his charioteer,
By boisterous rape the Athenian damsel got,
He thought it touch'd his deity full near,
If likewise he some fair one wedded not,
Thereby to wipe away the infamous blot
Of long uncoupled bed and childless eld,
Which, 'mongst the wanton gods, a foul reproach was held.

So, mounting up in icy-pearled car,
Through middle empire of the freezing air
He wander'd long till thee he spied from far;
There ended was his quest, there ceas'd his care:
Down he descended from his snow-soft chair,
But, all unwares, with his cold-kind embrace
Unhous'd thy virgin soul from her fair hiding place.

Yet art thou not inglorious in thy fate;
For so Apollo, with unweeting hand,
Whilom did slay his dearly-loved mate,
Young Hyacinth, born on Eurotas' strand,
Young Hyacinth, the pride of Spartan land;
But then transform'd him to a purple flower:
Alack, that so to change thee Winter had no power!

Yet can I not persuade me thou art dead,
Or that thy corse corrupts in earth's dark womb,
Or that thy beauties lie in wormy bed,
Hid from the world in low-delved tomb:
Could Heaven for pity thee so strictly doom?
Oh no! for something in thy face did shine
Above mortality, that show'd thou wast divine.

Resolve me then, oh Soul most surely blest,
(If so it be that thou these plaints dost hear;)
Tell me, bright Spirit, where'er thou hoverest,
Whether above that high first-moving sphere,
Or in the Elysian fields, (if such there were;)
Oh, say me true, if thou wert mortal wight,
And why from us so quickly thou didst take thy flight?

Wert thou some star which from the ruin'd roof
Of shak'd Olympus by mischance didst fall;
Which careful Jove in Nature's true behoof
Took up, and in fit place did reinstall?
Or did of late Earth's sons besiege the wall
Of sheeny Heaven, and thou, some goddess fled,
Amongst us here below to hide thy nectar'd head?

Or wert thou that just Maid, who once before
Forsook the hated earth, O tell me sooth,
And cam'st again to visit us once more?
Or wert thou that sweet-smiling youth?
Or that crown'd matron sage white-robed Truth?
Or any other of that heavenly brood
Let down in cloudy throne to do the world some good?

Or wert thou of the golden-winged host,
Who, having clad thyself in human weed,
To earth from thy prefixed seat didst post,
And after short abode fly back with speed,
As if to show what creatures heaven doth breed;
Thereby to set the hearts of men on fire
To scorn their sordid world, and unto heaven aspire?

But oh! why didst thou not stay here below
To bless us with thy heav'n-loved innocence,
To slake His wrath whom sin hath made our foe,
To turn swift-rushing black Perdition hence,
Or drive away the slaughtering Pestilence,
To stand 'twixt us and our deserved smart?
But thou canst best perform that office where thou art.

Then thou, the Mother of so sweet a Child,
Her false-imagin'd loss cease to lament,
And wisely learn to curb thy sorrows wild;
Think what a present thou to God hast sent,
And render Him with patience what He lent;
This, if thou do, He will an offspring give,
That, till the world's last end, shall make thy name to live.

[Poetical Works, ed. Todd (1826) 6:41-49]