As I was reading the dual poems I found myself more drawn to “Il Penseroso.” I began reading the introduction to the two poems with the thought, “Why on earth would you want to be melancholy?” My reading for “Il Penseroso” ended up being colored by the first footnote from “L’Allegro” concerning the word Melancholy. In the footnote, they mention a connotation for melancholy: “Aristotle remarked briefly that all extraordinary men in the arts and sciences were melancholic, thus associating melancholy with genius” (1929). In the opening lines of “Il Penseroso,” Milton banishes the opposing Mirth calling it “vain deluding joys” that “Dwell in some idle brain” (l. 1, 5). He then goes on, saying of Melancholy, “Hail divinest Melancholy, / Whose saintly visage is too bright / To hit the sense of human sight; / And therefore to our weaker view, / O’erlaid with black, staid Wisdom’s hue” (l. 12-16). With melancholy comes experience and with experience comes wisdom, a far more valuable thing for mankind than a bit of pleasure (as nice as that is at times). I think Milton’s point is that the pleasures of experience (or melancholy) are not instantaneous, but require time. Certainly this is a viewpoint that appeals to me from an LDS perspective (2 Nephi 2: 15: “…it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.”).
I don’t believe that Milton is absolutely writing off Mirth, but his point in “Il Penseroso” is that we can’t live in it all the time. The greater light and wisdom comes from our daily experiences.