1638
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lycidas.

Justa Edovardo King Naufrago, ab Amicis Moerentibus, Amoris & Mneias Charin. Obsequies to the memorie of Mr. Edward King.

John Milton


In addition to its singular contribution to the tradition of pastoral elegy, Milton's masterpiece became the model for much later Spenserian verse appearing in academic anthologies very like this one for Edward King. Compare — or rather contrast — Milton's concluding lines to those of Spenser's Januarye: "and now the frosty Night | Her Mantle black through Heaven 'gan over-hale. | Which seen, the pensive Boy half in despight | Arose and homeward drove his fallen Sheep, | Whose hanging Heads did seem his careful Case to weep."

Samuel Johnson: "One of the poems on which much praise has been bestowed in Lycidas; of which the diction is harsh, the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing. What beauty there is we must therefore seek in the sentiments and images. It is not to be considered as the effusion of real passion; for passion runs not after remote allusions and obscure opinions. Passion plucks no berries from the myrtle and ivy, nor calls upon Arethuse and Mincius, nor tells of 'rough satyrs and fauns with cloven heel.' 'Where there is leisure for fiction there is little grief.' In this poem there is no nature, for there is no truth; there is no art, for there is nothing new. Its form is that of a pastoral, easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting: whatever images it can supply are long ago exhausted; and its inherent improbability always forces dissatisfaction on the mind.... Of him, at last, may be said what Jonson says of Spenser, that 'he wrote no language,' but has formed what Butler calls 'a Babylonish Dialect,' in itself harsh and barbarous, but made by exalted genius and extensive learning the vehicle of so much instruction and so much pleasure that, like other lovers, we find grace in its deformity" "Life of Milton" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 1:163, 190-91.

Thomas Warton: "Milton, in his Lycidas, has plainly imitated the manner of this Pastoral ["Maye" in Shepheardes Calender]" in Todd, Works of Spenser (1805) 1:77n.

Anna Seward to Frances Brooke: "There is no parodying a passage in Milton, without speaking of the late literary treasure, Mr. T. Warton's edition of Milton's juvenile poems. Its critical notes have all the eloquence and strength of Johnson, without his envy. Johnson told me once, 'he would hang a dog that read the Lycidas twice.' 'What then,' replied I, 'must become of me, who can say it by heart; and who often repeat it to myself, with a delight 'which grows by what it feeds upon.'' 'Die,' returned the growler, 'in a surfeit of bad taste'" 21 April 1785; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 1:66.

Philip Neve: "This poem appears to have been formed between Spenser and the early Italians. Dryden says, in the Preface to his Fables, 'Milton was the poetical son of Spenser. He has acknowledged to me, that Spenser was his original.' Astrophel therefore probably gave rise to Lycidas" Cursory Remarks on some of the ancient English Poets (1789) 112.

Thomas Green: "Lycidas, though highly poetical I agree with Johnson, breathes little sincere sorrow, and is therefore essentially defective as a Monody" 8 March 1799; Extracts from the Diary of a Lover of Literature (1810) 126.

Zilla Watts: "[Wordsworth] asked me what I thought the finest, elegiac composition in the language; and, when I diffidently suggested Lycidas, he replied, 'You are not far wrong. It may, I think, be affirmed that Milton's Lycidas, and my Laodamia, are twin Immortals.' I admired Laodamia, and was quite willing that so it should be" 1864 ca.; Alaric Alfred Watts, Alaric Watts ... by his son (1884) 1:240.

W. J. Courthope: "Nor did he make less use of his reading among the English poets. The opening of Lycidas is suggested by an elegy of some nameless author lamenting the death of the Countess of Pembroke. 'Under the opening eyelids of the morn' is taken from Middleton, a dramatist from whom Milton also obtained the suggestion of the famous lines on marriage in the book of Paradise Lost. Drayton is in his mind whenever he makes an allusion to local archaeology. Spenser's Eclogue for April and Shakespeare's Winter Tale furnish him with hints for the enumeration of flowers to be strewn on Lycidas' 'laureate herse.' Phineas Fletcher's 'To-morrow shall ye feast in pastures new' inspires the reposeful line with which the elegy concludes. But in Lycidas, as in Comus, the grand architectural genius of Milton silences all rash inclination to prefer against him the mean charge of plagiarism. The design of the poem is completely original, and the perfect order in which the selected thoughts are subordinated to the central idea shows Milton was merely employing Memory in the service of Invention." History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 3:394-95.

George Saintsbury: "The term Monody, which Milton himself applies to this poem, has two senses in Greek; and it is probable that the poet intended to adopt both. One concerns form, and denotes a solo-piece as opposed to the combined choric ode; the other concerns matter, and is equivalent by customary restriction to 'lament' or 'dirge.' That Milton had the actual choruses of Greek tragedy in his mind there can be no doubt; but he is certain also to have had before him the less rigidly concerted odes of various English predecessors, specially those two great ones of his master Spenser, to which we have tried to do justice in their place. From these two modes, however, though passages of the three poems possess a not dissimilar rhythmical arrangement, he parted in the first instance by making his stanzas much less uniform. Spenser had adopted stanza forms so long that they would hardly strike the ear as stanzas had it not been for the refrains which tip and outline them, but of pretty uniform length — eighteen lines throughout the Prothalamion and at the beginning and end of the Epithalamion, nineteen in the body of the latter. Milton discards the refrain altogether; and attempting no uniform stanza-length at all, converts the stanzas (for stanzas they still are after a fashion) into something once more like his beloved verse paragraph — definitely finished, and corresponding to others like a paragraph of prose, but, like prose paragraphs themselves, acknowledging no obligation of corresponding length" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:219.

Herbert E. Cory: "At least as early as Thomas Warton, critics have pointed out the similarity between the abusive digression of religious polemics in Lycidas and the religious janglings of Piers and Palinode in the Maye eclogue of The Shepheards Calender. Mantuan and Petrarch had attacked bad clergy in their eclogues. But their influence is more remote than that of Milton's chosen master. Moreover Spenser's eclogue was the specific attack of Protestant upon Catholic. In this he was followed by some of his imitators, notably Phineas Fletcher, in The Appolyonists and in his Piscatorie Eclogues (1633). We have good evidence that Spenser's abusive eclogue appealed particularly to Milton. In Animadversions upon the Remonstrant's Defence against Smectymnuus he quotes from Maye one of Spenser's fierce thrusts at corrupt prelates. And the satire in Milton's elegy is markedly similar in spirit and phrase to the harsh lines in Spenser's discordant pastoral.... It is interesting to observe that while Lycidas, in its general character, turns away from the Spenserian pastoral to the Virgilian, its digressions, the most earnest and personal parts of the poem, derive almost certainly from The Shepheards Calender. The ecclesiastical satire, though the lines burn with Milton's fine strength, is not pleasant reading. But the other famous digression — the momentary doubt of the youthful idealist — contains the most beautiful and the most human lines in the elegy. 'Alas! what boots it with uncessant care | To tend the homely, alighted, Shepherd's trade, | And strictly meditate the thankless Muse?' It is important, for students of literary influence, to notice that while Milton took some of his impulse for this passage from the despair of the young poet Cuddie and the lofty encouragement of Piers in Speaser's October, yet he was experiencing, at first kind, precisely the mood which Spenser expressed. Spenser was doubting, but aspiring to rise to epic heights in his Faerie Queene. Milton was expressing the same temporary unfaith and discouragement of youth but meditating none the less upon his great national poem" "Spenser, the Fletchers, and Milton" UCPMP 2 (1912) 358-60.

In J. Hayward's contribution to this volume there is an allusion to "the blatant beast, who cries them down | As savouring of superstition" Wells, Spenser Allusions (1972) 202.

Milton's borrowings from Spenser are discussed in Gentleman's Magazine 56 (June 1786) 487.

David Norbrook notes Spenserianism in an earlier Cambridge collection of elegies, Threnodia in obitum D. Edovardi Lewkenor (1606) pp. 1-6, 35-36, 39-48; Poetry and Politics (1984) 334n.



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 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 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 eye-lids of the morn,
We drove afield, and both together heard
What time the gray-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 slop'd his weltering wheel.
Mean while the rural ditties were not mute,
Temper'd to the oaten flute;
Rough Satyrs danc'd, and Fauns with cloven heel
From the glad sound would not be absent long;
And old Damoetas 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 wisard stream:
Ay me! I fondly dream!
Had ye been 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 goary 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 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. "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 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 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 the 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 miter'd 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 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 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, 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 sed:
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 enamell'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 laureat herse 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 hurld'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 towards Namancos and Bayona's hold;
Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth:
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.

Weep no more, woful 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 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 recompence, 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 gray;
He touch'd the tender stops of various quills,
With eager thought warbling his Dorick lay
And now the sun had stretch'd out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the western bay:
At last he rose, and twitch'd his mantle blue:
To morrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.

[Todd (1801, 1826) 5:13-54]