Introduction. Background and Text. Lycidas first appeared in a 1638 collection of elegies entitled Justa Edouardo King Naufrago. This collection commemorated the death of Edward King, a collegemate of Milton's at Cambridge who drowned when his ship sank off the coast of Wales in August, 1637. Milton volunteered or was asked to make a contribution to the collection. The present edition follows the copy of Poems of Mr. John Milton (1645) in the Rauner Collection at Dartmouth College known as Hickmott 172. Milton made a few significant revisions to Lycidas after 1638. These revisions are noted as they occur.

Form and Structure. The structure of Lycidas remains somewhat mysterious. J. Martin Evans argues that there are two movements with six sections each that seem to mirror each other. Arthur Barker believes that the body of Lycidas is composed of three movements that run parallel in pattern. That is, each movement begins with an invocation, then explores the conventions of the pastoral, and ends with a conclusion to Milton's "emotional problem" (quoted in Womack).

Voice. Milton's epigram labels Lycidas a "monody": a lyrical lament for one voice. But the poem has several voices or personae, including the "uncouth swain" (the main narrator), who is "interrupted" first by Phoebus (Apollo), then Camus (the river Cam, and thus Cambridge University personified), and the "Pilot of the Galilean lake" (St. Peter). Finally, a second narrator appears for only the last eight lines to bring a conclusion in ottava rima (see F. T. Prince). Before the second narrator enters, the poem contains the irregular rhyme and meter characteristic of the Italian canzone form. Canzone is essentially a polyphonic lyrical form, hence creating a serious conflict with the "monody." Milton may have meant "monody" in the sense that the poem should be regarded more as a story told completely by one person as opposed to a chorus. This person would presumably be the final narrator, who seemingly masks himself as the "uncouth swain." This concept of story-telling ties Lycidas closer to the genre of pastoral elegy.

Genre. Lycidas is a pastoral elegy, a genre initiated by Theocritus, also put to famous use by Virgil and Spenser. Christopher Kendrick asserts that one's reading of Lycidas would be improved by treating the poem anachronistically, that is, as if it was one of the most original pastoral elegies. Also, as already stated, it employs the irregular rhyme and meter of an Italian canzone. Stella Revard suggests that Lycidas also exhibits the influence of Pindaric odes, especially in its allusions to Orpheus, Alpheus, and Arethusa. The poem's arrangement in verse paragraphs and its introduction of various voices and personae are also features that anticipate epic structures. Like the form, structure, and voice of Lycidas, its genre is deeply complex. James Sitar

Monody. A lyrical lament for one voice.

height. The headnote — "In this Monody ... height." — did not appear in 1638 (Justa Edouardo King). This addition might be due to the less strict laws regarding published texts. The Trinity MS has the headnote but without the final sentence: "And by occasion ... height." The clergy Milton refers to is the clergy of the English Church as ruled by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, a champion of traditional liturgy and the bane of reformist Puritans. Bishops fell out of power in 1642, between the two editions.

Friend. Edward King, a schoolmate of Milton's at Cambridge who drowned when his ship sank off the coast of Wales in August, 1637. King entered Christ's College in 1626 when he was 14 years old. Upon finishing his studies, King was made a Fellow of Christ's thanks to his patron King Charles I. The Trinity MS of Lycidas is dated Nov. 1637, three months after King's death.

Never-sear. Never withered. 1638 has "never-sere". Laurel was considered the emblem of Apollo, myrtle of Venus, and ivy of Bacchus.

Lycidas. The name Lycidas is common in ancient Greek pastorals, establishing the style Milton imitates for this poem. William Collins Watterson notes that in Theocritus' pastoral, Lycidas loses a singing competition. Watterson asserts that Milton is aligning King with Lycidas in an attempt to portray himself as victorious over King. Virgil's ninth Eclogue is spoken in part by the shepherd Lycidas, a scene that includes, as Balachandra Rajan points out, a reference to social injustice. Lucan's Civil Wars 3.657-58 also tells the story of a Lycidas pulled to pieces during a sea battle by a grappling hook.

Lycidas? An echo of Virgil; "Who would not sing for Gallus?" (Eclogue 10.5).

bear. Bier, or funeral platform. 1638 has "biere".

Begin then, Sisters. Following the pastoral tradition of Theocritus, Moschus, and Virgil, Milton invokes the muses to begin the lament. See Virgil's Eclogue 4.1. The sisters are the nine muses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory). Their sacred well is called Aganippe on Mount Helicon, just a bit lower than the "seat" of Jove.

lucky. It would certainly be bad luck to refuse an invitation to sing for the dead. Virgil's persona implies as much in Eclogue 10.5-6. See also OED2.

opening. 1638 has "glimmering" instead of "opening"; The Trinity MS replaces "glimmering" with "opening".

Batt'ning. Feeding.

Star. Venus as Hesperus, the evening star. 1638 has "ev'n-starre" in place of "Star that rose, at Ev'ning,". The Trinity MS corrected the 1638 reading to "Oft till the star that rose in evening bright".

westering. 1638 has "burnisht" in place of "westering"; Trinity MS initiated the change to "westering".

th'Oaten Flute. A Panpipe, or the flute used by Pan, traditionally associated with the songs of shepherds. See Virgil's Ecologues10.64-5. Spenser calls him "God of shepheards all" in The Shepheardes Calendar, "December," 7. Drawing of Pan playing a panpipe.

Satyrs. Mythical goat-men renowned for lust. Milton is probably referring to his (and King's) classmates at Christ's. Picture.

Damoetas. A traditional pastoral name, see Virgil's Eclogue 3. Also a clownish shepherd named Damoetas appears in Sidney's Arcadia. Search Dartmouth's Library catalog. Milton might be referring to Christ's College tutor William Chappel.

to hear our song. The narrator imagines that he and King were shepherds (poets and students) in the same pasture (Christ's College, Cambridge) and learned from the same master, William Chappel (perhaps personified here as Old Damoetas).

gadding. Wandering, unruly.

Canker. Cankerworm, a garden pest.

Taint-worm. Intestinal parasite that afflicts young calves, that is, weanlings.

weanling. Young livestock, recently weaned from mother's milk.

wardrop. Wardrobe. 1638 has "wardrobe".

blows. Blossoms.

Bards. Ancient Druid poet-singers: "An ancient Celtic order of minstrel-poets, whose primary function appears to have been to compose and sing (usually to the harp) verses celebrating the achievements of chiefs and warriors, and who committed to verse historical and traditional facts, religious precepts, laws, genealogies, etc." (OED2).

Mona. Anglesey, an Island off the west coast of Britain, once the home of Celtic druids.

Deva. The river Dee, where Chester, King's destination, stands. Spenser's Faerie Queene 4.11.39 refers to the Dee as "divine."

fondly. Foolishly, idly.

Lesbian shore. Calliope, daughter of Jupiter and Mnemosyne was Orpheus's mother and a muse. Orpheus, according to legend, could charm animals, birds, and even inanimate bits of nature with his music. For Milton, as for many others, he serves as a personified symbol of the power of poetic song. For the story of the death of Orpheus, see Ovid's Metamorphoses 11.1-66. Also see Albrecht Dürer's 1494 engraving, Death of Orpheus.

strictly. 1638 misprints this as "stridly".

Or with. 1638 has "Hid in the" in place of "Or with". "Or with" is a Trinity MS correction.

Amaryllis. The names of the nymphs, Amaryllis and Neaera, are conventional, borrowed from Virgil's Eclogues 1.4-5 and Eclogues 3.3.

Guerdon. Reward.

Fury. Milton refers to fate or destiny here as a "Fury," as if one of the Eumendies from classical Greek drama. Some traditions personify the Fates as three sisters, the sisters of destiny; one spins the thread of life, one measures out its length, and the third snips it with shears. Hughes asserts that this figure is Atropos. See Plato's Republic 620e.

Phoebus. Apollo. Virgil, in Eclogues 6.5-6, imagines the "Cynthian god" plucking at his ear.

foil. Hughes notes that a foil is the "setting of a gem".

Arethuse. A fountain in Sicily associated with poetic inspiration (see Arcades 30-31). Mincius is the river of Virgil's hometown, Mantua. Virgil associates the Mincius with his own pastoral verse in Eclogues 7. 15-16 and Georgics 3. 20-21.

higher mood. Epic poetry was considered to be a more elevated form than pastoral, thus in a higher mode.

Herald. Triton, a sea-god usually pictured with a trumpet.

plea. That is, at Neptune's request, to testify in his defence.

swain. A shepherd; a word frequently used by Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser.

Hippotades. Homeric epithet for Aeolus, the wind-god, son of Hippotas. See Odyssey 10.3.

Panope. A sea nymph.

Bark. Small ship.

th'eclipse. A ship built during an eclipse might be imagined to be either cursed with bad luck or simply ill-built as a result.

Camus. Personification of the river Cam, which runs through Cambridge. This personification draws comparisons to Virgil's personification of Mincius, the river that runs through his home town.

sanquine flower. The Hyacinth. Apollo made this flower from the blood of his beloved Hyacinthus, whom he accidentally killed. The story is in Ovid's Metamorphoses 10.214-16.

The Pilot. It is commonly accepted that this refers to St. Peter, to whom Christ gave "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:19). Peter's first meeting with Jesus is told in Luke 5:2-4.

Miter'd. A miter is a liturgical headress worn by bishops.

Line 113. 1645 has a period at the end of this line, but that appears to be an error, especially since the line is the last on the page in 1645.

Anow. Enough. 1638 has "Enough".

into the fold. See John 10:1.

Blind mouthes! John Ruskin suggests that "a bishop means a person who sees" and a "pastor means one who feeds. The most unbishoply character...is therefore to be blind. The most unpastoral is, instead of feeding, to want to be fed,—to be a mouth" (quoted in Orgel and Goldberg).

scrannel. Thin, shriveled.

Lines 121-127. An echo of Menalcas' sentiments in Virgil's Ecologues 3.8 1, 4-9, 30-4.

Woolf. The Roman Catholic Church.

privy. Secret. See 2 Peter 2:1. Perhaps also a pun on the Privy Council.

nothing. Critics dispute whether "little" should stand. In accordance with 1645, most modern editions use "nothing."

sed. 1638 has "said".

two-handed engine. The meaning of this phrase has generated much commentary. Orgel's assertion, that it is a sword large enough to require two hands to use, is commonly accepted.

smite once, and smite no more. See Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14: 27-9.

Alpheus. Personification of a river in Greece and also the god who fell in love with Arethusa and pursued her until she was turned into a fountain. See Ovid's Metamorphoses 5.865-875.

swart Star. Sirius, the dog star, is ascendant during the hottest days of the year; hence the term, "dog days."

rathe. Ready to bloom.

Crow-toe. Wild hyacinth.

Gessamine. Jasmine, a climbing shrub with fragrant flowers.

freakt. Flecked or streaked whimsically or capriciously; variegated. See OED2. "Freakt with jeat" (jet, black) means flecked with black streaks or spots.

wan. Pale.

Amaranthus. In the garden of Eden, an immortal flower (Paradise Lost 3.353-57). See also Spenser's Faerie Queene 3.6.45 (search "Amaranthus").

Daffadillies. This flower list, a typical pastoral element, was first added to the Trinity MS on a separate sheet of paper and marked for insertion here. Sacks contrasts this section with the plucking at the beginning of the poem (line 3). He asserts, "the anger has been purged, and the rewards (the undying flowers of praise) have been established."

Hebrides. The Hebrides lie off the west coast of Scotland.

whelming. Overwhelming, or drowning. 1638 has "humming". Trinity MS also has "humming", changed to "whelming" by marginal hand in BM and Cambridge copies of Justa Eduardo King (Carey & Fowler).

moist. Tear-dampened.

Bellerus. A giant for whom Land's End was called Bellerium in Roman times.

guarded Mount. Mount St. Michael's, near Land's End on the Cornish coast, across the Channel from Mont St. Michel. Milton imagines the patron saint of England looking out from here to guard England from overseas (Catholic) religion. Namancos is in Spain and Bayona a fortress near Cape Finisterre.

Look homeward. The Angel could refer to either St. Michael, whose mount it is, or Lycidas. In either case, the injunction is for him to turn his eye from the threat of Spain (represented by Namancos and Bayona) and instead to look homeward, where Lycidas has drowned (Orgel & Goldberg). Lawrence Lipking identifies the angel with Michael.

Dolphins. Dolphins were thought by sailors to be a good omen at sea, looking after the ship and guarding it from peril.

him that walk'd the waves. Alluding to Jesus, who walked on water according to Matthew 14:25-26.

weep no more. Recalls the opening line of the poem "Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more." The invocation to begin the lament is repeated as the invitation to end the lament.

unexpressive nuptial Song. According to Hughes, "the unutterable nuptial Song is sung at the marriage supper of the Lamb." See Revelation 14:9. Janet E. Halley makes important points about the unacknowledged homoerotic features of Milton's pastoral heaven here and in Epitaphium Damonis (see her "Female Autonomy" 241-242).

In the blest Kingdoms meek of joy and love. 1638 omits this line entirely.

wipe the tears. See Revelation 7:17.

Genius. The spirit or guardian angel of the place.

Dorick. The sort of Greek spoken in Crete and Laconia. Also the dialect preferred by Theocritus and Bion, the earliest practictioners of pastoral verse. A doric lay is the sort of song sung by pastoral poets in doric.

Quills. The hollow reeds of the shepherd's pipes; the stops are the holes one covers with fingers to make different notes sound.

Pastures new. See the end of Virgil's Eclogues 10. 70-97.