To cel­eb­rate Blake’s birth­day, here is one of his illus­tra­tions for Milton’s L’Al­legro, along with the poem itself, which seems suited to the mood of the day: “Mirth, with thee I mean to live”.

Blake, Mirth, for Milton’s L’Allegro


Hence loathed Melancholy,
Of Cer­ber­us, and black­est Mid­night born,
In Sty­gi­an cave forlorn,
‘Mongst hor­rid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy;
Find out some uncouth cell,
Where brood­ing Dark­ness spreads his jeal­ous wings,
And the night-raven sings;
There under ebon shades, and low-brow’d rocks,
As ragged as thy locks,
In dark Cim­meri­an desert ever dwell.
But come thou god­dess fair and free,
In heav’n yclep’d Euphrosyne,
And by men, heart-eas­ing Mirth,
Whom lovely Venus at a birth
With two sis­ter Graces more
To Ivy-crowned Bac­chus bore;
Or wheth­er (as some sager sing)
The frol­ic wind that breathes the spring,
Zephyr, with Aurora playing,
As he met her once a‑Maying,
There on beds of viol­ets blue,
And fresh-blown roses wash’d in dew,
Fill’d her with thee, a daugh­ter fair,
So bux­om, blithe, and debonair.
Haste thee nymph, and bring with thee
Jest and youth­ful Jollity,
Quips and cranks, and wan­ton wiles,
Nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles,
Such as hang on Hebe’s cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter hold­ing both his sides.
Come, and trip it as ye go
On the light fant­ast­ic toe,
And in thy right hand lead with thee,
The moun­tain-nymph, sweet Liberty;
And if I give thee hon­our due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew
To live with her, and live with thee,
In unre­proved pleas­ures free;
To hear the lark begin his flight,
And singing startle the dull night,
From his watch-tower in the skies,
Till the dappled dawn doth rise;
Then to come in spite of sorrow,
And at my win­dow bid good-morrow,
Through the sweet-bri­ar, or the vine,
Or the twis­ted eglantine;
While the cock with lively din,
Scat­ters the rear of dark­ness thin,
And to the stack, or the barn door,
Stoutly struts his dames before;
Oft list’n­ing how the hounds and horn
Cheerly rouse the slum­b’ring morn,
From the side of some hoar hill,
Through the high wood echo­ing shrill.
Some­time walk­ing, not unseen,
By hedge-row elms, on hil­locks green,
Right against the east­ern gate,
Where the great Sun begins his state,
Rob’d in flames, and amber light,
The clouds in thou­sand liv­er­ies dight.
While the plough­man near at hand,
Whistles o’er the fur­row’d land,
And the milk­maid sin­geth blithe,
And the mower whets his scythe,
And every shep­herd tells his tale
Under the hawthorn in the dale.
Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures
Whilst the land­skip round it measures,
Rus­set lawns, and fal­lows gray,
Where the nib­bling flocks do stray;
Moun­tains on whose bar­ren breast
The labour­ing clouds do often rest;
Mead­ows trim with dais­ies pied,
Shal­low brooks, and rivers wide.
Towers, and bat­tle­ments it sees
Bos­om’d high in tufted trees,
Where per­haps some beauty lies,
The cynos­ure of neigh­bour­ing eyes.
Hard by, a cot­tage chim­ney smokes,
From betwixt two aged oaks,
Where Cory­don and Thyrsis met,
Are at their savoury din­ner set
Of herbs, and oth­er coun­try messes,
Which the neat-handed Phyl­lis dresses;
And then in haste her bow’r she leaves,
With Thestyl­is to bind the sheaves;
Or if the earli­er sea­son lead
To the tan­n’d hay­cock in the mead.
Some­times with secure delight
The upland ham­lets will invite,
When the merry bells ring round,
And the joc­und rebecks sound
To many a youth, and many a maid,
Dan­cing in the chequer­’d shade;
And young and old come forth to play
On a sun­shine holiday,
Till the live-long day­light fail;
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale,
With stor­ies told of many a feat,
How Faery Mab the jun­kets eat,
She was pinch’d and pull’d she said,
And he by fri­ar’s lanthorn led,
Tells how the drudging gob­lin sweat,
To earn his cream-bowl duly set,
When in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
His shad­owy flail hath thresh’d the corn
That ten day-labour­ers could not end;
Then lies him down, the lub­ber fiend,
And stretch’d out all the chim­ney’s length,
Basks at the fire his hairy strength;
And crop-full out of doors he flings,
Ere the first cock his mat­in rings.
Thus done the tales, to bed they creep,
By whis­per­ing winds soon lull’d asleep.
Tower­’d cit­ies please us then,
And the busy hum of men,
Where throngs of knights and bar­ons bold,
In weeds of peace high tri­umphs hold,
With store of ladies, whose bright eyes
Rain influ­ence, and judge the prize
Of wit, or arms, while both contend
To win her grace, whom all commend.
There let Hymen oft appear
In saf­fron robe, with taper clear,
And pomp, and feast, and revelry,
With mask, and antique pageantry;
Such sights as youth­ful poets dream
On sum­mer eves by haunted stream.
Then to the well-trod stage anon,
If Jon­son’s learned sock be on,
Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy’s child,
Warble his nat­ive wood-notes wild.
And ever against eat­ing cares,
Lap me in soft Lydi­an airs,
Mar­ried to immor­tal verse,
Such as the meet­ing soul may pierce
In notes with many a wind­ing bout
Of linked sweet­ness long drawn out,
With wan­ton heed, and giddy cunning,
The melt­ing voice through mazes running,
Untwist­ing all the chains that tie
The hid­den soul of harmony;
That Orph­eus’ self may heave his head
From golden slum­ber on a bed
Of heap’d Elysi­an flow’rs, and hear
Such strains as would have won the ear
Of Pluto, to have quite set free
His half-regain’d Eurydice.
These delights if thou canst give,
Mirth, with thee I mean to live.

John Milton, L’Al­legro, 645