The two famous digressions of John Milton in his poem “Lycidas”

On 10.08.1637, Edward King, a classmate of John Milton at Christ College, had drowned tragically in a shipwreck on the Irish Sea, while he was travelling from Chester Bay to visit his family in Ireland. For the young John Milton, and a host of other Cambridge students, King's death was far more than a big bummer. King was one of the loyal friends of Milton and an aspiring poet, too. Shortly after his death, a number of King's Cambridge buddies, including John Milton, released a collection of poems, as a tribute to their friend Edward King, in two parts. The second part was called “Justa Edouardo King Naufrago” (Obsequies to the Memory of Mr. Edward King) and "Lycidas" was the last and longest poem in this part. Milton`s Lycidas is a monody in the form of a pastoral elegy to lament the untimely death of Edward King, who was a promising young man of great intelligence. An elegy is a poem, written on the death of some near or dear ones. Pastoral elegy is a genre, which narrates both death and idyllic rural life; very often it relates to the lives of shepherds. A Pastoral

Elegy is a song of grief in which the poet in the guise of a Shepherd bewails on the death of some dear and near ones, who are also presented as a Shepherd. Generally, such poems glorify
rural life as ‘pure” and such life is completely devoid of the problems of a life in a city. This genre is initiated by Theocritus and made famous by Virgil and Spencer. In this elegy, Edward King has been pasteurized as a shepherd in its idyllic setting. The poet follows the model of Theocritus and Virgil in its composition. The poet and his friend are portrayed as shepherds. Cambridge and its surroundings become a rural paradise and his pursuit of the students is pictured as feeding the flock or playing on the “Oaten flute”. The poem is thus clothed in exquisite symbolism .The poet pictures his attempt at pastoral elegy as plucking” the berries of laurels, myrtles and the ivy before they ripen”. The poet does not feel that his faculty is not ripe enough to write this poem. Yet the sad occasion compels him to write the poem, since Lycidas or King was a brother-poet and he himself knew to sing .Thus compelled to employ his talents, the poet appeals to the Muses, the sisters of the sacred well that springs from beneath the seat of Jove to inspire him. This innovation tool is in classical style with the minor difference of the addition of the expression of the desire of Milton that he might be honoured with a similar poem when he is dead. Though Milton has followed the conventions in pastoral poetry, t he has mingled in it Greek mythology and Christian theology. There are two digressions in this poem, which Milton himself admit.

The first one is on the “Fame’’. Milton realizes that it is a pity that poets who scorn delights and live labourious days should be snatched away from the world suddenly, as Edward King was. Great men like Lycidas and Milton himself train themselves to sacrifice many comforts and other things desired by people in their life. But they have one desire, namely that for fame. They hope to gain the praise of others for their noble work. Milton admits that this too is an infirmity or weakness. But even noble minds have it. It is tragic therefore when gods take away the life of such noble men, just when they are about to get the reward for their efforts. Milton is thinking as of himself as of King, when he writes the lines. He had devoted himself to poetry with single minded efforts and it is natural that he wonders whether he might also share the same fate as Lycidas. Death is here described in a vivid manner. The Greeks believed that the three goddesses Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos presided over the birth span of life and death of mortals. The last was believed to have shears with which to cut the life of human beings. She is described as a blind Fury, since she is blind to the merits of the persons whose life she cuts short and is eager to slit the thin-spun life. The passage shows how much thought Milton had devoted the aims and ends of profession of poets. The second digression is the speech of St.Peter. At the outset, many critics, including Dr.Johnson, have pointed out that Milton mixes Christian Saints and gods so freely with pagan gods. St.Peter is introduced all of a sudden in the midst of the galaxy of Greek and Roman deities. Milton concludes his tirade against the clergy of England, in his lament over the untimely death of Edward King. He lashes through the speech of St.Peter, the selfish priests, who care little for their spiritual duties but who are intent on their emoluments. St.Peter1s fury knows no bounds to watch such a state of affairs and he ends his speech with the prophetic words, ”But that two headed engine stands ready at the door, to smite once and smite no more”. Milton implies that king and Church would be swept away by the efforts of the Parliament. ***********