Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lycidas

Regarded by many critics as the finest elegy ever written in the English language, John Milton's Lycidas, composed in 1637 in response to the death of Edward King, a close friend and erstwhile rival of his at Christ's College, Cambridge. King was apparently a very promising young scholar, with a personality that endeared him even to those who competed with him, as did Milton, for a fellowship at the College. King died when his ship, which he was taking to visit his home in Ireland, was wrecked when it struck a rock near the Welsh coast.

Milton followed many of the traditions of elegiac verse, including bestowing a Greek pseudonym upon his subject, a pastoral setting with references to laurels and myrtles (symbols of poetic achievement), metaphorical embodiments of the fateful quality of death (comes the blind Fury / with th' abhorred shears, and slits the thin spun life), and the hope of eventual resurrection and immortality. The irony here, as with Shakespeare's early sonnets, is that we know next to nothing about their actual subjects; the immortality gained here is by the poem's author.

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting to see the emotion and stages of grief Milton is going through over the course to the elegy. At first he is in almost disbelief and keeps repeating things like "fed by the same flock." These lines he keeps repeating are showing his disbelief that someone who was so much like himself died in such a tragic way. But towards the end of the elegy Milton seems more hopeful accepting the fact that though his friend sank to the bottom of the ocean, his soul rose to Heaven and is in a better place.

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