'Lycidas' by John Milton

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In this Monody the author bewails a learned Friend, unfortunately
drownedin his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637;
by occasion, foretells the ruin of our corrupted Clergy, then in
their height.

YET once more, O ye laurels, and once more,
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,
And with forced fingers rude
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear
Compels me to disturb your season due;
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.
Who would not sing for Lycidas? he knew
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not float upon his watery bier
Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of some melodious tear.
Begin, then, Sisters of the sacred well
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring;
Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string.
Hence with denial vain and coy excuse:
So may some gentle Muse
With lucky words favour my destined urn,
And as he passes turn,
And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud!
For we were nursed upon the self-same hill,
Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill;
Together both, ere the high lawns appeared
Under the opening eyelids of the Morn,
We drove a-field, and both together heard
What time the grey-fly winds her sultry horn,
Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the star that rose at evening bright
Toward heaven's descent had sloped his westering wheel.
Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute;
Tempered to the oaten flute,
Rough Satyrs danced, and Fauns with cloven heel
From the glad sound would not be absent long;
And old Damoetas loved to hear our song.
But, oh! the heavy change, now thou art gone,
Now thou art gone and never must return!
Thee, Shepherd, thee the woods and desert caves,
With wild thyme and the gadding vine o'ergrown,
And all their echoes, mourn.
The willows, and the hazel copses green,
Shall now no more be seen
Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.
As killing as the canker to the rose,
Or taint-worm to the weanling herds that graze,
Or frost to flowers, that their gay wardrobe wear,
When first the white-thorn blows;
Such, Lycidas, thy loss to shepherd's ear.
Where were ye, Nymphs, when the remorseless deep
Closed o'er the head of your loved Lycidas?
For neither were ye playing on the steep
Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lie,
Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high,
Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream.
Ay me! I fondly dream
RHad ye been there,S . . . for what could that have done?
What could the Muse herself that Orpheus bore,
The Muse herself, for her enchanting son,
Whom universal nature did lament,
When, by the rout that made the hideous roar,
His gory visage down the stream was sent,
Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore?
Alas! what boots it with uncessant care
To tend the homely, slighted, shepherd's trade,
And strictly meditate the thankless Muse ?
Were it not better done, as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neaera's hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights and live laborious days;
But, the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life. RBut not the praise,"
Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling ears:
RFame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to the world, nor in broad rumour lies,
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in heaven expect thy meed."
O fountain Arethuse, and thou honoured flood,
Smooth-sliding Mincius, crowned with vocal reeds,
That strain I heard was of a higher mood.
But now my oat proceeds,
And listens to the Herald of the Sea,
That came in Neptune's plea.
He asked the waves, and asked the felon winds,
What hard mishap hath doomed this gentle swain?
And questioned every gust of rugged wings
That blows from off each beaked promontory.
They knew not of his story;
And sage Hippotades their answer brings,
That not a blast was from his dungeon strayed:
The air was calm, and on the level brine
Sleek Panope with all her sisters played.
It was that fatal and perfidious bark,
Built in the eclipse, and rigged with curses dark,
That sunk so low that sacred head of thine.
Next, Camus, reverend sire, went footing slow,
His mantle hairy, and his bonnet sedge,
Inwrought with figures dim, and on the edge
Like to that sanguine flower inscribed with woe.
Ah! who hath reft," quoth he, Rmy dearest pledge?"
Last came, and last did go,
The Pilot of the Galilean Lake;
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain.
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain).
He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake:--
RHow well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as, for their bellies' sake,
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold!
Of other care they little reckoning make
Than how to scramble at the shearers' feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest.
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learnt aught else the least
That to the faithful herdman's art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped:
And, when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But, swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread;
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more."
Return, Alpheus; the dread voice is past
That shrunk thy streams; return Sicilian Muse,
And call the vales, and bid them hither cast
Their bells and flowerets of a thousand hues.
Ye valleys low, where the mild whispers use
Of shades, and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,
On whose fresh lap the swart star sparely looks,
Throw hither all your quaint enamelled eyes,
That on the green turf suck the honeyed showers,
And purple all the ground with vernal flowers.
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine,
The white pink, and the pansy freaked with jet,
The glowing violet,
The musk-rose, and the well-attired woodbine,
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears;
Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.
For so, to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise,
Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where'er thy bones are hurled;
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit'st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great Vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold.
Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth:
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor.
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of Him that walked the waves,
Where, other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the Saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That Sing, and singing in their glory move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.
Now, Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more;
Henceforth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood.
Thus sang the uncouth swain to the oaks and rills,
While the still morn went out with sandals grey:
He touched the tender stops of various quills,
With eager thought warbling his Doric lay:
And now the sun had stretched out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the western bay.
At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue:
Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Exploring the Depths of "Lycidas" by John Milton

Poetry has the power to transport us to different realms, to make us feel and think in ways that we never thought possible. One such work that has captivated readers for centuries is "Lycidas" by John Milton. Written in 1637 in memory of his friend Edward King, this elegy is a masterpiece of literature that showcases Milton's poetic skill and his deep understanding of life and death. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the themes, imagery, and structure of "Lycidas," and understand why it continues to resonate with readers even today.

Understanding the Context

To fully appreciate "Lycidas," it is important to understand the context in which it was written. Edward King was a fellow student of Milton's at Cambridge University, and the two had become close friends. King drowned at sea in 1637, and Milton was devastated by the loss. In "Lycidas," Milton mourns not just the death of his friend, but also the decline of English poetry and the corruption of the church.

The Themes of "Lycidas"

One of the most prominent themes in "Lycidas" is the transience of life. Milton laments the fact that death can come at any moment, and that even the brightest and most talented among us are not immune to it. He writes, "So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed, / And yet anon repairs his drooping head, / And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore / Flames in the forehead of the morning sky" (lines 176-179). This imagery of the sun sinking into the ocean and rising again is a metaphor for the cycle of life and death. It is a reminder that even though we may die, life goes on, and there is always hope for renewal and rebirth.

Another theme in "Lycidas" is the power of poetry. Milton begins the poem by invoking the muses, asking them to help him mourn his friend. He writes, "Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more, / Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere, / I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude, / And with forced fingers rude, / Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year" (lines 1-5). This opening stanza sets the tone for the poem and establishes the importance of poetry in expressing grief and mourning. Milton sees poetry as a way to immortalize his friend, to keep his memory alive through the ages.

A third theme in "Lycidas" is the corruption of the church. Milton uses the death of his friend as a way to criticize the clergy of his time, who he sees as corrupt and self-serving. He writes, "The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed, / But swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw, / Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread" (lines 69-71). This metaphor of the sheep being neglected and left to rot is a powerful indictment of the church, which Milton sees as failing in its duty to care for its flock. He also criticizes the church for its obsession with wealth and power, writing, "New presbyter is but old priest writ large" (line 131). This line is a reference to the Puritans, who were gaining power in England at the time, but who Milton saw as just as corrupt as the Anglican clergy they were replacing.

The Imagery of "Lycidas"

One of the most striking aspects of "Lycidas" is its use of powerful imagery. Throughout the poem, Milton uses metaphors and allusions to create a vivid picture of his friend's death and the world in which he lived.

One of the most powerful images in "Lycidas" is the contrast between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of death. Milton writes, "The shepherds at their festivals Carol her good deeds loud in rustic lays, / And throw sweet garland wreaths into her stream" (lines 37-38). This image of the shepherds singing and throwing garlands into the river is a stark contrast to the image of Lycidas drowning. It is a reminder that death is a part of life, but that life goes on, and that even in the face of tragedy, beauty can be found.

Another powerful image in "Lycidas" is the use of classical allusions. Milton was well-versed in classical literature, and he uses this knowledge to great effect in his poem. He writes, "Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise / (That last infirmity of noble mind) / To scorn delights, and live laborious days" (lines 70-72). This line is a reference to a line from a sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney, which in turn was a reference to a line from Virgil's Aeneid. By using this classical allusion, Milton is not only paying homage to his literary forebears but also adding depth and richness to his poem.

The Structure of "Lycidas"

The structure of "Lycidas" is also worth examining. The poem is written in the form of a pastoral elegy, a genre that was popular in the Renaissance. The pastoral elegy typically features shepherds mourning the death of a fellow shepherd, and it often includes references to classical literature and mythology. Milton's use of this genre in "Lycidas" not only allows him to express his grief in a poetic and beautiful way but also allows him to comment on the state of English poetry and society.

The poem is divided into two main sections: the first section mourns the death of Lycidas, while the second section is a critique of English society and the clergy. This division allows Milton to shift from personal grief to social commentary seamlessly, and gives the poem a sense of balance and structure.


In "Lycidas," John Milton has created a work of art that is both beautiful and powerful. Through his use of imagery, structure, and language, he expresses his grief at the loss of his friend, while also commenting on the state of English poetry and society. The themes of transience, poetry, and corruption are still relevant today, and the poem continues to be a powerful reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of art in expressing our deepest emotions.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Lycidas: A Masterpiece of John Milton

John Milton, the renowned English poet, is known for his exceptional works of literature, including his epic poem, Paradise Lost. However, one of his most celebrated works is the elegy, Lycidas. Written in 1637, Lycidas is a tribute to Milton's friend, Edward King, who drowned at sea. The poem is a masterpiece of English literature, and its themes of loss, grief, and mortality continue to resonate with readers today.

Lycidas is a pastoral elegy, a form of poetry that originated in ancient Greece and Rome. The pastoral elegy typically features a shepherd mourning the loss of a fellow shepherd, and it often includes references to nature and the countryside. Milton's Lycidas follows this tradition, but it also incorporates Christian themes and allusions to classical literature.

The poem begins with the speaker, who is a shepherd, mourning the loss of Lycidas. The speaker laments that Lycidas was taken too soon and that he did not have the chance to achieve his full potential. The speaker then turns to nature, asking the nymphs and muses to mourn with him. He also references the myth of Orpheus, the legendary musician who descended into the underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice. The speaker compares Lycidas to Orpheus, suggesting that he too was a talented musician who was taken too soon.

As the poem progresses, the speaker shifts his focus to the corrupt state of the Church of England. He criticizes the clergy for their greed and hypocrisy, and he suggests that they are responsible for Lycidas's death. The speaker also alludes to the political turmoil of the time, referencing the English Civil War and the execution of Charles I.

However, the poem ends on a hopeful note. The speaker suggests that Lycidas has been taken to a better place, where he can continue to sing and play music. The speaker also suggests that Lycidas's death has brought him closer to God, and that he is now in a state of eternal peace.

One of the most striking aspects of Lycidas is its use of language and imagery. Milton's language is rich and complex, and he uses a variety of literary devices to convey his message. For example, he uses alliteration and assonance to create a musical quality to the poem. He also uses metaphors and similes to compare Lycidas to various objects and animals, such as a flower or a swan.

The imagery in Lycidas is also noteworthy. Milton uses vivid descriptions of nature to create a pastoral setting, and he uses classical allusions to add depth and complexity to the poem. For example, he references the Greek gods Apollo and Pan, as well as the Roman poet Virgil. These allusions serve to connect Lycidas to a larger literary tradition, and they also add a sense of timelessness to the poem.

Another important aspect of Lycidas is its themes. The poem explores the themes of loss, grief, and mortality, as well as the idea of redemption and eternal life. The speaker's lament for Lycidas is a powerful expression of grief, and it serves as a reminder of the fragility of life. However, the poem also suggests that death is not the end, and that there is hope for eternal life and redemption.

In addition, Lycidas also explores the theme of corruption and hypocrisy in the Church of England. The speaker's criticism of the clergy reflects Milton's own disillusionment with the Church, which he believed had become corrupt and self-serving. This theme is particularly relevant today, as many people continue to question the role of organized religion in society.

Overall, Lycidas is a masterpiece of English literature, and it continues to be studied and admired today. Its themes of loss, grief, and mortality are universal, and its language and imagery are rich and complex. Milton's use of the pastoral elegy form, as well as his incorporation of Christian and classical themes, make Lycidas a unique and powerful work of literature.

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