John Milton | Lycidas as an Elegy


John Milton | Lycidas as an Elegy

–Menonim Menonimus

John Milton's 'Lycidas' as an Elegy

John Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ as an Elegy

John Milton | Lycidas as an Elegy

‘Elegy’ is a type of poem written on the theme of lamentation for a dead person. There are some special features that distinguish elegy from other forms of poetry, they are- (i) mournfulness, (ii) absolute sincerity of emotion and expression, (iii) subjectivity (the charm of personality), (iv) reflectiveness and (v) universality. Besides elegy proper, there is another form of elegy called Pastoral Elegy which, in addition to the general characteristics, is featured by these as- (i) it portrays the unsophisticated country life, (ii) the characters are shepherds or shepherdesses who roam over from pasture to pasture lamenting over the death of a dearest one and with the lamenter, some fairies or nymphs or other shepherdess take part and (iii) it ends with the resignation to the inevitable. John Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ is a fine elegy of the pastoral order. It has all the common characteristics of an ideal elegy that falls in the convention of pastoral elegy. Let us illustrate Lycidas as an elegy as below:

First, the poem Lycidas deals with the poet’s deep sorrows and lamentation for the premature death of his dear friend named Edward King. He drowned in the Irish Sea in 1637 A.D. His feeling of sorrow is very deep and intense. Throughout the poem, he casts his mournful tone which affects his readers equally. He portrays his depth of sorrow, as:

”As killings as the canker to the rose

 Or taint worms to the weanling herds…


Such Lycidas, thy loss to Shepherd’s ear.”   

Secondly, the poet has taken absolute sincerity of emotion and expression in dealing with his theme. His depiction of sorrows and pain of separation is so overflooded that they have flown out spontaneously. But what flows out of his core of heart gets a sincere expression, as he says:

 ”But oh, the heavy change, now thou art gone

Now, thou art gone and never must return!”

The third feature of an elegy which is reflectiveness or speculativeness is also highly present in Lycidas. The poet broods over his theme so deeply that it philosophizes his feeling and goes on to reflect on the futility of worldly glory. Milton portrays in stanzas nos. V and VI that worldly glory is nothing, the real glory of life is bestowed by God after examining one’s deed. He philosophizes:

”Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil


And perfect witness of all judging Jove

As he pronounces lastly- on each deed.”

The fourth attribute of an elegy is subjectivity (the charm of personality). The present poem ‘Lycidas’ by Milton is replete with the charm of the personality of the poet. The poet’s longing for becoming a great poet, his critical attitude towards the sensuous decorative poets and his dislike for the corrupted clergy are explicitly expressed beside his deep sorrows for his dead friend. The poet says:

”So may some gentle Muse

 With juicy words favor my destined urn.”

The fifth feature of an ideal elegy is its universality which is attained by the sincerity of feeling and expression, the faithfulness of felt sorrows and the realization of the transience of human life. The poet John Milton has rendered this quality to his ‘Lycidas’ successfully. The lines quoted below show how his feelings have got a universal appeal:

”Weep no more, woeful shepherd, weep no more

For Lycidas, your sorrow is not dead.”

In addition to the presence of all the general characteristics of an elegy, the poem ‘Lycidas’ also bears all the qualities of a pastoral elegy, as-

First, the poet sets off his narration in a pasture and portrays wildlife with trees and herbs and keeps up the natural surrounding throughout the poem, as: 

”Yet once more, o ye Laurels and once more

Ye myrtles brown, with ivy sere.”

Secondly, the poet puts his lamentation to the mouth of a shepherd who expresses his lamentation roaming over the pasture and with whom the other shepherds and wood-nymphs take part and at last, after telling the tragic story, the shepherd rises up to go to the fresh woods, as the poet says: 

”And at last he rose, and switched his mantle blue

Tomorrow to fresh woods and pasture new.” 

Thirdly, an elegy of pastoral order often ends with the resignation to the inevitable. Lycidas is so, as the poet consoles himself:

”So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high

 Through the dear might of Him.”

From the above illustration, we can come to the conclusion that Milton’s Lycidas bears all the characteristics (features) of an ideal elegy of the pastoral order. 0 0 0

John Milton | Lycidas as an Elegy 

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John Milton | Lycidas as an Elegy

N. B. This article entitled ‘John Milton | Lycidas as an Elegy’ originally belongs to the book ‘Critical Essays on English Poetry‘ by Menonim Menonimus. John Milton | Lycidas as an Elegy

Books of Literary Criticism by M. Menonimus:

  1. World Short Story Criticism
  2. World Poetry Criticism
  3. World Drama Criticism
  4. World Novel Criticism
  5. World Essay Criticism
  6. Indian English Poetry Criticism
  7. Indian English Poets and Poetry Chief Features
  8. Emily Dickinson’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  9. Walt Whitman’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  10. Critical Essays on English Poetry
  11. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: Return of the Spirit-An Analytical Study
  12. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: ‘Yawmiyyat Naib Fil Arayaf’-An Analytical Study
  13. Analytical Studies of Some Arabic Short Stories
  14. A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Pre-Islamic Period
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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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