Lycidas

Lycidas

by John Milton

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 forc’d 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 wat’ry 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 destin’d urn,
And as he passes turn
And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud!

For we were nurs’d upon the self-same hill,
Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill;
Together both, ere the high lawns appear’d
Under the opening eyelids of the morn,
We drove afield, and both together heard
What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,
Batt’ning our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the star that rose at ev’ning bright
Toward heav’n’s descent had slop’d his westering wheel.
Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute,
Temper’d to th’oaten flute;
Rough Satyrs danc’d, and Fauns with clov’n heel,
From the glad sound would not be absent long;
And old Damætas lov’d to hear our song.

But O 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
Clos’d o’er the head of your lov’d 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
Had ye bin there’—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 incessant 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 Neæra’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 th’abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life. “But not the praise,”
Phoebus replied, and touch’d my trembling ears;
“Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to th’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 Heav’n expect thy meed.”

O fountain Arethuse, and thou honour’d flood,
Smooth-sliding Mincius, crown’d 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 ask’d the waves, and ask’d the felon winds,
“What hard mishap hath doom’d this gentle swain?”
And question’d 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 stray’d;
The air was calm, and on the level brine
Sleek Panope with all her sisters play’d.
It was that fatal and perfidious bark,
Built in th’eclipse, and rigg’d 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 inscrib’d with woe.
“Ah! who hath reft,” quoth he, “my 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:
“How well could I have spar’d 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 reck’ning 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 learn’d 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, swoll’n 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 flow’rets 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 enamel’d eyes,
That on the green turf suck the honied 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 freak’d with jet,
The glowing violet,
The musk-rose, and the well attir’d 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 hurl’d;
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 wat’ry 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 walk’d 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 th’oaks and rills,
While the still morn went out with sandals gray;
He touch’d the tender stops of various quills,
With eager thought warbling his Doric lay;
And now the sun had stretch’d out all the hills,
And now was dropp’d into the western bay;
At last he rose, and twitch’d his mantle blue:
To-morrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.

Summary of Lycidas

  • Popularity of “Lycidas”: John Milton, a great English poet, wrote ‘Lycidas’. It is a superb poem about death. It was first published in 1637. The poem speaks about the sudden death of one of the speaker’s friends, Edward King. It also illustrates how his death and memories still hunt his life. Its popularity, however, lies in that it deals with the phenomenon of loss and its biting impacts on the human soul.
  • “Lycidas” As a Representative of Loss: This poem revolves around the memories of the speaker’s dear friend. It begins when the speaker invokes the Muses and holy spirits and narrates his intention of writing this piece. Then, he reminisces about how the speaker and Lycidas spent quality time together and the description ends with Lycidas’s death. Later, the speaker addresses a series of ancient figures including muses, nymphs, Apollo, and St. Peter to find out who witnessed his friend’s death but fails to find anyone. Soon, he realizes that no one was able to save him because he was destined to exit the world.
    While talking about the selfless nature and hard work of his friend, he says that Lycidas’s efforts and struggle on the earth went in vain as he left the transient world before reaching his goals. However, toward the end, he accepts that we all are mortal beings, and one day we have to leave this world. Moreover, his friend is not dead, he is just transported to another world, where he has joined the company of holy saints. What, however, stays in the minds of the readers is his unbound love for his friend.
  • Major Themes in “Lycidas”: Death, sorrow, and the transience of life are the major themes underlined in this poem. The poem presents the eternal grief of the speaker over the death of his loving friend. Being sorrowful, the speaker not only talks about the priceless moments he has spent with his friend but also blames God and the holy spirits that even they did not help his friend. He also questions the useless rules and attributes that we follow to have a successful life, as death arrives anytime to put a full stop to our lives. After lamenting the great loss, the poet concludes that sorrow, guilt, fame, success, and pain are temporary; as soon as you leave the world, these things lose their glory. However, after death, you open your eyes to a world that has no end. He thinks that his friend is now living in heaven and is enjoying the fruits of immortal life.

 Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Lycidas”

Literary devices are important elements of a literary text. Their use not only brings richness to the text but also makes the readers understand the storyline. Milton has also made this poem superb by using figurative language. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /uh/ in “For we were nurs’d upon the self-same hill,” and the sound of /o/ in “Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more”.
  2. Allusion: Allusion is an indirect reference to a person, place, thing, or idea of a historical, cultural, political, or literary significance. Milton alludes to the story of how Orpheus died in the following stanza,

“What could the Muse her self that Orpheus bore,
The Muse her self, for her inchanting son
Whom Universal nature did lament,
When by the rout that made the hideous roar,
His goary visage down the stream was sent,
Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore.”

  1. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick successions. For example, the sound of /w/ in “With wild thyme and the gadding vine o’ergrown” and the sound of /th/ in “Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise.”
  2. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“Daily devours apace, and nothing said,
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “And wipe the tears forever from his eyes”, “With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves” and “To all that wander in that perilous flood.”
  2. Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical Question is a question that is not asked in order to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear. For example, “Clos’d o’er the head of your lov’d Lycidas?”, “Creep and intrude, and climb into the fold?” and “Ah! who hath reft,” quoth he, “my dearest pledge?”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Lycidas”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “roar/shore”, “lament/sent” and “bed/head.”
  2. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are eleven stanzas in this poem with each comprises of a different number of verses.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful in a speech while talking about death and the joys it steals.

“But O the heavy change now thou art gone,
Now thou art gone, and never must return.”