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In this MONODY the Author bewails a learned friend, un
fortunately drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish seas, 1637. And by occasion foretells the ruin of our corrupted clergy, then in their height.
YET once more, 0 ye laurels, and once more,
The title was added in the edition of 1645. See note on line 8. Learned friend. Edward King was a native of Ireland, and the son of Sir John King who filled the office of Secretary for Ireland under Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I. For eleven years he had been connected with Cambridge. He was admitted to Christ's College, June 9, 1626, when Milton had been there a little over a year. He was made Fellow by mandate of King Charles, June 10, 1630. After graduation he filled the academic offices of tutor and prælector, and was qualifying himself for the active work of the ministry. He composed Latin verses on the birth of the Princess Mary, 1631; on the king's recovery from the small-pox, 1632-3; on the king's return from Scotland, 1633; on Hausted's play of Senile Odium, 1633 ; on the birth of Prince James, 1633; on the birth of the Princess Elizabeth, 1635; on the birth of the Princess Anne, 1636–7. The 10th of August, 1637, he was drowned on his passage from Chester to Ireland. It is said that the ship struck on a rock off the Welsh coast, and that when the vessel was sinking he knelt in prayer on the deck, and so met his fate. He was twenty-five years old, and was noted for his piety, scholarship, brilliant talents, and amiable character.
A book of commemorative verses in honor of him was published in 1638, containing three poems in Greek, nineteen in Latin, and thirteen in English. Milton's Lycidas was the last of these English elegies. It was signed with his initials, and dated November, 1637, Milton being then about 29 years old. Monody, a kind of sorrowful poem or song, in which a single mourner expresses grief.
1. Yet once more, O ye laurels. “Some such formula was frequent with poets in beginning a new exercise of their art,” says Masson. Warton cites,
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
by way of illustration, “Yet once again, my Muse,' from an elegy on the death of the Countess of Pembroke, sister of Sir Philip Sidney. See Spenser's formula at the beginning of the Faerie Queene ; also Virgil's ' Ille ego, qui quondam,' etc. Once more. For three years Milton had written no poetry; although his Hymn on the Nativity, Arcades, Comus, L'Allegro, il Penseroso, and other shorter poems, had given abundant promise. Laurels. Laurels, myrtles, and ivies are symbolical of poetry. They are evergreens, too, and enablematic of immortality. Laurel leaves crowned the victor in the games of Apollo, and the fruit in later ages indicated academic honors. Perhaps we may say generally that the laurel, sacred to Apollo, typifies the lof. tier strains; the myrtle, sacred to Venus, represents poetry of an amatory or affectionate character; and the ivy, sometimes wreathing the head of Bacchus, and sometimes, according to Horace, 'the reward of learned brows,'may symbolize corresponding kinds of verse. Pliny refers to ivy as forming the coronals of poets.- Note that the word 'more' at the end of the first line does not rhyme. What other lines in the poem end without rhyme ? Can you assign an artistic or æsthetic reason for the omission ? See Masson's Milton's Poetical Works, Vol. II. p. 276.
2. Sere. Sere is dry. Shakes. in Macbeth speaks of the 'sere, the yellow leaf.' Possibly the season of the year when this poem was written, October or November, suggested the thought. Ivy leaves in autumn do to some extent become sere ; but the ivy that adorns the brows of true poets is never sere.' Milton would gather and twine unfading garlands of poesy for Lycidas. Can you think of a different explanation ?
3. I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude. Some critics see in these lines an allusion to the unripe age of young King. They think his poetic talent, his beauty and ripeness for love, and his learning, are somehow typified by laurels, myrtles, and ivy respectively. But is it not more likely that Milton means to represent himself as writing poetry prematurely and under constraint ? He feels that his work must be poor; the 'leaves' and 'berries,' the flowers and fruit, must be all unripe ; yet his fingers are forced by his friend's death to seize the pen. In his treatise on Reformation in England, published in 1641, and in his Second Defence of the People of England, 1654, as well as in his lines to his native language, “At a Vacation Excercise in the College” (11. 29-53), he intimates his intention and preference in regard to writing a great poem after reaching the full maturity of his powers. Crude (Lat. cruor, blood, gore ; crudus, bloody), raw, unripe.
5. Shatter, 'a modern softening of scatter.' Jerram. See Par. Lost, X. 1066. Mellowing year, mellowing time of the year. Does this mean, before the mellowing year shatiers, or before the mellowing year comes ? T. Warton
Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,
and many other critics think that Milton's language is not strictly accurate here. To all such the caution of Prof. Himes may be suggested, that “ care needs to be exercised not to condemn before understanding the poet."
6. Constraint. So in Shakespeare's All's Well that ends Well, we have 'Love's own sweet constraint.' Dear (A.-S. deore, dyre; Ice. dyrr; Dan. and Swed. dyr; Dutch duur; Ger. theuer, high-priced, costly, expensive. Horne Tooke erroneously derives it from A.-S. derian, to hurt, daru, harm), important; heart-touching, heart-grieving. This sense of dear is not infrequent in Shakes. ; as, 'dear groans' in Love's Labor 's Lost, V. 2, l. 874 ; 'dearest foe,' in Hamlet, I. ii. 182; · dearest spite,' in Sonnet 37. Sad occasion dear. Note the position of the noun between the two adjectives. This is very common in Milton ; as in Par. Lost, V. 5 ; IX. 1003, 1004. It is in imitation of the Greek. See note on line 66.
7. Compels. This use of the singular may be explained on the theory that the real nominative is the whole of the preceding line. For similar instances in Shakespeare, see Abbott's Shakes. Gram. § 337. In the north of England the third plural of the verb once ended in s. Often, too, in the Elizabethan , writers, as in the Latin, the verb agrees with the nearest nominative. Season due. What is meant ?
8. Lycidas. (Perhaps fr. Gr. leukos, levkirns in Theocritus, V. 147, light, white, pure, akin to lux, light.) Virgil, and before him Theocritus (a Sicilian pastoral poet who wrote in Greek about 270 B. C.) had used this name in pastoral poetry. (See the song in the Seventh Idyl of Theocritus, where Lycidas is a goatherd of high poetic talent.) There was an Athenian Lycidas stoned to death B. C. 479. Ere his prime. He was but twenty-five.
9. Young Lycidas. So Spenser, Milton's favorite poet, repeats the word Astrophel in his elegy on Sir Philip Sidney, —
“Young Astrophel, the pride of shepherds' praise,
Young Astrophel, the rustic lasses' love." So the word 'Dido’in Spenser's eleventh Eclogue, and the word ‘Hyacinth' in Milton's Death of a Fair Infant, 25, 26. Peer, equal, from Lat. par, Fr. pair, equal. So peers in Par. Lost, I. 39, V. 812; but elsewhere the word is in Milton, and usually in Shakespeare, a title of nobility.
10. Who would not sing for Lycidas? Here, and often elsewhere in this poem, the poet beautifully imitates Virgil's sweetest pastoral song, the tenth Eclogue : Carmina sunt dicenda : neget quis carmina Gallo ? songs must be sung: who can refuse songs to Gallus? He knew himself to sing, and
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
Begin, then, Sisters of the sacred well
build the lofty rhyme. Rime or rhime was written by Milton, but that spelling is obsolete. The expression build the lofty rhyme' is like Horace's Condis amabile carmen, “Thou buildest a lovely song" (Epist. I. iii. 24); Si carmina condes, “If thou shalt build songs ” (De Arte Poetica); and it sug. gests also 'Aolòàs étrúpywoe (Euripides' Supplices, l. 998), “Built songs to a towering height"; also 'Etupyboas öňuata oeuvá, Aufthürmtest erhabene Phrasen, “Didst build the stately rhyme” (Frogs of Aristophanes, 1. 1004). What poetry had King 'built'? Knew to sing is an imitation of a frequent iliom in Latin and Greek. It is pronounced by some critics 'unnecessary and inaccurate' in English, but it is perfectly well authorized ; as in James iv. 17. So in Comus, 87. Lat. caněre callebat ; Gr. Ödel nniotato.
12. Bier (Old Eng. baer, Lat. feretrum, that which bears, Gr. pépet pov).
13. Welter (A.-S. waeltan, to roll ; akin to wallow, Ger. waltzen, Lat. • volvo, volutare, Fr. vautrer, to roll). Parching, blistering, shrivelling ; spok
en of cold as well as heat. See Par. Lost, II. 594; Xenophon's Anabasis, IV. v. 3. Note the alliteration. What of the rhyme ?
14. Melodious tear. So in Milton's Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester, 1. 55, we have, “Here be tears of perfect moan.” Translate Milton's line into prose. What is metonymy? Give other examples.
15. Begin then, Sisters. Who were the nine Muses? Of what was each the patron goddess? What can you say of the custom of invoking the Muses ? The sacred well. The Pierian spring near Mount Olympus, says Masson. So the Clarendon Press edition. But no such spring is mentioned in the classics. Where was Castalia ? A ganippe? Hippocrene? for what noted ? “The
sacred well,'” says Jerram, “is Aganippe on Mount Helicon, and the 'seat of Jove' is the altar upon the same hill.” Stevens and Morris suggest that the snow-covered top of Helicon is here called the seat of Jove, the lord of light. The original home of the Muses is said to have been in Pieria in Macedonia, near the foot of Mount Olympus. Afterwards Mount Helicon in Boeotia was their favorite abode. So Mount Parnassus. Consult a classical atlas. (See the first lines of Hesiod's Theogony, where we find him singing “ with the Heliconian Muses, who keep the divine and spacious mount of Helicon, and who also with delicate feet dance about the violet-hued fount and altars of the mighty son of Cronos.") Rhyme to 'well'?
17. String. Meaning of 'string'? What is synecdoche ?