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Milton’s “Lycidas” ENGL 203/513/622 Dr. Fike. Milton and Poetry A good example of Eliot’s conception of tradition and the individual talent: the past.

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Presentation on theme: "Milton’s “Lycidas” ENGL 203/513/622 Dr. Fike. Milton and Poetry A good example of Eliot’s conception of tradition and the individual talent: the past."— Presentation transcript:

1 Milton’s “Lycidas” ENGL 203/513/622 Dr. Fike

2 Milton and Poetry A good example of Eliot’s conception of tradition and the individual talent: the past is present in the poem (classical and Christian). Highly allusive: Literature of the past is simultaneous in a sense. Literary history sparks the individual talent to achieve something unique, new, and distinctive.

3 Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” “Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity.”

4 Poet’s Life Virgil set the model: –Pastoral (“Oaten Flute,” 34; “Oate,” 88) –Then epic Milton is following this pattern, bursting on the scene “to pluck your Berries harsh and crude, / And with forc’d fingers rude” (4). Humble, right? Just like The Reason of Church-Government: “urgent reason hath pluckt from me by an abortive and foredated discovery” (p. 924, left). And yet…see the next slide.

5 The Voice of God? Line 1, “Yet once more”: cf. Hebrews 12:26-28: “His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.’” Suddenly, not so humble!

6 Factoids The poem is a “monody”: a dirge or lament or funeral song by a single speaker. This is not totally accurate because it contains multiple voices. It is a pastoral elegy: –Pastoral: a rural poem that comments on aspects of civilized life. –Elegy: an expression of grief related to the death of a friend; typical elements are praise, lament, and consolation.

7 Elements of the Pastoral Elegy Invocation of the muse (15) Expression of grief felt at the loss of a friend (37-49) Procession of mourners (85ff.) Digression (on the church 108-31) Consolation—stuff happens, but everything turns out for the best (165-85); consolation—strengthened belief in God Poet as shepherd (shepherd = someone who guards sheep + a pastor in the religious sense) Praise of the dead “shepherd” (25-36) Pathetic fallacy (39-41)—nature is given human qualities Questioning of the nymphs (50ff.) Flower symbolism (64-84)

8 The Name “Lycidas” Lycidas is a shepherd in Theocritus’s seventh Idyll. He faces death by drowning in Lucan’s Pharsalia. He complains against social injustice in Virgil’s ninth eclogue. He brings gifts to Mary and her child in Sannazaro’s piscatory (fish) eclogues.

9 Edward King (1612-1637) King was 4 years younger than Milton, who was born in 1608. King was admitted to Christ’s College at Cambridge in 1626 (Milton, in 1625). King drowned at sea in 1637: “It was that fatall and perfidious Bark / Built in th’ eclipse, and rigg’d with curses dark, / That sunk so low that sacred head of thine” (100-02). Key points about King: –Piety –Erudition –Poetic talent

10 Anthology Milton’s poem was part of an anthology of poems that people wrote in honor of Edward King. There were both Latin and English poems. Milton’s is the last one in the English section.

11 The Shipwreck According to the Latin epigraph prefacing the commemorative volume, “the ship in which he was[,] having struck a rock not far from the British shore and being ruptured by the shock, he, while the other passengers were fruitlessly busy about their mortal lives, having fallen forward on his knees, and breathing a life which was immortal, in the act of prayer going down with the vessel, rendered up his soul to God, Aug. 10, 1637, aged 25.”

12 Other Relevant Deaths Ben Jonson died the same month as King. Milton’s mother died in April of the same year. Plague: 1636-37. POINT: These deaths added to the intensity of Milton’s involvement in the shipwreck. The Latin motto in the 1637 collection: “If you reckon rightly shipwreck is everywhere.” In other words, death is universal. Therefore, it was natural for Milton to think about his own death.

13 Outline of the Poem (label these sections in your book) Introduction: 1-24 Meditation on true fame: 25-84 Happy section, 25-36 Lament for L’s death, 37-49 Regret that the nymphs could not protect him, 50-63 Risk of death before great work is completed, 64-84 Prophecy of the run of the corrupted clergy: 85-131 Bridge/transition: 132-64 Deification of Lycidas: 165-84 Conclusion: 186-93

14 Timeframe Line 26: Poem begins at daybreak. Lines 29-31: Evening star sinks. Line 168: The day star sinks. Now it is twilight. POINT: The timeframe parallels a day in the life of a shepherd.

15 Movements within the Poem Lamentation to triumph Low to high Past to future Pagan/classical to Christian (pastoral world, natural world, Christian world, the blessed kingdom). Again: –Classical: “Sisters of the sacred well” (15); the tears of the muses (poems) are in the background; the Hebrus River, into which Orpheus’s dismembered body was thrown “by the Maenads, who embody the dark forces of nature and savagery that so easily overcome the fragile civilizing arts” (Lewalski 83). –Natural: the sea that drowned King; human tears—salty like the ocean. –Christian world: Christ’s walking on the water at 173; baptism. –The blessed kingdom: the “other streams” of paradise (174). Now the tear is forever wiped from L’s eyes. –Note: fresh water, good; salt water, bad.

16 First Verse Paragraph Let’s read it. What do you notice about it?

17 Next Passages Lines 64-84: What is Milton’s beef here? Lines 102-31: What is Milton’s beef here?

18 Milton’s Two Beefs Death—Milton has lost his friend, and now the poet worries that death might snuff out his own artistic future. –That is why he includes a section on fame (70). If you’re going to die young, why not “sport with Amaryllis in the shade”? –Milton rails against “blind fury with th’ abhorred shears” (75). –Milton transfers the scissors from Fates (Clotho spins; Lachesis cards; Atropos cuts) to the Furies (avenging spirits with keen, wide-open, searching eyes to help them find their victims). M’s furies are blind--this creates a sense of cruel randomness. Clergy—Milton has St. Peter rail against religious corruption. –Line 110, “Two massy Keyes he bore of metals twain”: cf. Matthew 16:19: “‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” Cf. PL 2.327-28.

19 More on Death A procession of mourners: –Neptune’s herald = Triton, 89 –Hippotades (Aeolus), 96 –Camus (the spirit of Cambridge, a “reverend sire,” 103) –St. Peter: “The Pilot of the Galilean lake,” 109

20 More on the False Clergy Line 115, “Creep and intrude, and climb into the fold”: cf. John 10:1: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.’” Line 118, “And shove away the worthy bidden guest”: cf. Matthew 22:8: “…they that were bidden [to the feast] were not worthy.”

21 False Clergy = “Blind mouths!” (119) The word “bishop” comes from the Greek episkopeo, one who oversees. The worst thing that could happen to a bishop, therefore, is blindness. Line 119, Isaiah 56:10-57.1: “His watchmen are blind…The shepherds also have no understanding…..The righteous man perishes….” The word “pastor” is from the Latin pascere, “to pasture” or “to feed.” The Latin pastor means shepherd. Starvation will result if one turns from care and feeding and becomes a mouth. POINT: Blindness and ravenousness. Blind bishops and greedy pastors: “The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed” (125). The result: “grim Wolf with privy paw” (128): the Roman Catholic Church advances. Line 128, re. wolves, cf. PL 4.182-92 and 12.507-14. The arms of St. Ignatius Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) included two gray wolves.

22 Milton’s Source From Virgil's 3rd Eclogue: Menalcas. Poor sheep, ever a luckless flock! while the master clings by Neaera and dreads lest she prefer me before him. This hireling shepherd milks the sheep twice an hour: the juice is stolen from the flock, the milk from the lambs......... Thou him in singing? or hadst thou ever a waxen-bound pipe? Wert not wont in the cross-roads, blockhead, to mangle a wretched tune on a grating straw?

23 Ugliest Line in the Poem “And when they list, their lean and flashy songs / Grate on their scrannel Pipes of wretched straw” (124-25). Cacophony: harsh, unpleasant sounds (vs. euphony, pleasing sounds). POINT: The line acts out Milton’s disgust for corrupted religious figures.

24 Punishment: “that two-handed engine” (130) The two houses of parliament The temporal and Spiritual authority of the Court of High Commission The destructive power of the imminent civil war Puritan zeal Combined forces of England and Scotland or of France and Spain The Catholic Church The pastoral staff or sheep-hook The keys of Heaven and Hell given to St. Peter (Matthew 16:19) The lock on St. Peter’s door St. Peter’s sword (Matthew 20:51, John 18:10) The “Sharp two-edged Sword” of the Johannine vision (Revelation 1:16, 2:12) The Sword of Divine Justice (Ezekiel 21:9-17), especially as wielded by Michael “with huge two- handed sway” (PL 6.251) The axe in general, especially the one “laid unto the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10, Luke 3:9) The rod of Christ’s anger The Word of God The Son of God The scythe of Time Man “in his dual capacity of labour and prayer” The iron flail of Talus in FQ V The temple of Janus

25 But Implied Hopefulness Mention of Alpheus and Arethusa frames the section on the clergy. Alpheus (imperfection) loves Arethusa (virtue). Therefore, Milton implies that goodness will triumph over corruption.

26 Another Interpretation Arethusa (muse of pastoral poetry) represents nobility and justice. Alpheus represents truth. Alpheus’s waters pass unpolluted through the ocean: this demonstrates that truth is incorruptible. Milton Encyclopedia 57: “Arethusa is called upon after a reference to the purity and perfection of Jove’s justice, while Alpheus is called upon after the two-handed engine delivers from a hostile world the shrinking stream of those who pursue the ideal.”

27 Quick Summary Milton’s beefs: death and religious corruption. Those who abuse religious positions will be punished. Comfort/consolation: –Milton exorcizes his grief. –He focuses on true fame in heaven. –He takes comfort in the hope of heaven. –Good will win out. –This inspires him to move on to “fresh woods, and pastures new” (his upcoming trip to Italy in the last line of the poem).

28 Final Passage Lines 172-end. What does Milton say about Lycidas/King? What does Milton say about himself in the last verse paragraph? END

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