Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Restoration Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Restoration Verse.  1910.
 
Lycidas
By John Milton (1608–1674)
 
In this Monody the Author bewails a learned Friend, unfortunately drown’d in his Passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637. And by occasion fortels the ruine of our corrupted Clergy then in their height

YET 1 once more, O ye Laurels, and once more
Ye Myrtles brown, with Ivy never-sear,
I com to pluck your Berries harsh and crude,
And with forc’d fingers rude,
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.        5
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        10
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not flote upon his watry bear
Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of som melodious tear.
  Begin then, Sisters of the sacred well, 2        15
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring, 3
Begin, and somwhat loudly sweep the string.
Hence with denial vain, and coy excuse,
So may som gentle Muse
With lucky words favour my destin’d Urn,        20
And as he passes turn,
And bid fair peace be to my sable shrowd.
For we were nurst upon the self-same hill,
Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill.
  Together both, ere the high Lawns appear’d        25
Under the opening eyelids of the morn,
We drove a field, and both together heard
What time the Gray-fly winds her sultry horn,
Batt’ning our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the Star that rose, at Ev’ning, bright        30
Toward Heav’ns descent had slop’d his westering wheel.
Mean while the Rural ditties were not mute,
Temper’d to th’ Oaten Flute;
Rough Satyrs danc’d, and Fauns with clov’n heel,
From the glad sound would not be absent long,        35
And old Damætas 4 lov’d to hear our song.
  But O the heavy change, now thou art gon,
Now thou art gon, and never must return!
Thee Shepherd, thee the Woods, and desert Caves,
With wilde Thyme and the gadding Vine o’regrown,        40
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 layes.
As killing as the Canker to the Rose,        45
Or Taint-worm to the weanling Herds that graze,
Or Frost to Flowers, that their gay wardrop wear,
When first the White thorn blows;
Such, Lycidas, thy loss to Shepherds ear.
  Where were ye Nymphs when the remorseless deep        50
Clos’d o’re the head of your lov’d Lycidas?
For neither were ye playing on the steep, 5
Where your old Bards, the famous Druids ly,
Nor on the shaggy top of Mona 6 high,
Nor yet where Deva 7 spreads her wisard stream:        55
Ay me, I fondly dream!
Had ye bin there—for what could that have don?
What could the Muse her self 8 that Orpheus bore,
The Muse her self, for her inchanting son 9
Whom Universal nature did lament,        60
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 uncessant care
To tend the homely slighted Shepherds trade,        65
And strictly meditate the thankles Muse,
Were it not better don as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis 10 in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise        70
(That last infirmity of Noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious dayes;
But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury 11 with th’ abhorred shears,        75
And slits the thin spun life. But not the praise,
Phoebus repli’d, and touch’d my trembling ears;
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to th’ world, nor in broad rumour lies,        80
But lives and spreds aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfet witnes of all judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in Heav’n expect thy meed.
  O Fountain Arethuse, 12 and thou honour’d floud,        85
Smooth-sliding Mincius, 13 crown’d with vocall reeds,
That strain I heard was of a higher mood:
But now my Oate proceeds,
And listens to the Herald of the Sea 14
That came in Neptune’s plea,        90
He ask’d the Waves, and ask’d the Fellon winds,
What hard mishap hath doom’d this gentle swain?
And question’d every gust of rugged wings
That blows from off each beakèd Promontory,
That knew not of his story,        95
And sage Hippotades 15 their answer brings,
That not a blast was from his dungeon stray’d,
The Ayr was calm, and on the level brine,
Sleek Panope 16 with all her sisters play’d.
It was that fatall and perfidious Bark        100
Built in th’ 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        105
Like to that sanguine flower 17 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, 18
Two massy Keyes he bore of metals twain,        110
(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,
Anow of such as for their bellies sake,
Creep and intrude, and climb into the fold?        115
Of other care they little reck’ning make,
Then how to scramble at the shearers feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest.
Blind mouthes! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A Sheep-hook, or have learn’d ought els the least        120
That to the faithfull Herdmans art belongs!
What recks it then? What need they? They are sped;
And when they list, their lean and flashy songs 19
Grate on their scrannel Pipes of wretched straw,
The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed,        125
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist 20 they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread:
Besides what the grim Woolf 21 with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing sed,
But that two-handed engine 22 at the door,        130
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.
  Return Alpheus, 23 the dread voice is past,
That shrunk thy streams; Return Sicilian Muse,
And call the Vales, and bid them hither cast
Their Bels, and Flourets of a thousand hues.        135
Ye valleys low where the milde whispers use,
Of shades and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,
On whose fresh lap the swart Star 24 sparely looks,
Throw hither all your quaint enameld eyes,
That on the green terf suck the honied showres,        140
And purple all the ground with vernal flowers.
Bring the rathe Primrose that forsaken dies.
The tufted Crow-toe, and pale Gessamine,
The white Pink, and the Pansie freakt with jeat,
The glowing Violet,        145
The Musk-rose, and the well attir’d Woodbine,
With Cowslips wan that hang the pensive hed,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears:
Bid Amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears,        150
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 ere thy bones are hurld,        155
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 deny’d,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus 25 old,        160
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold; 26
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the haples youth.
  Weep no more, woful Shepherds weep no more,        165
For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watry floar,
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,        170
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 Lock’s he laves,        175
And hears the unexpressive nuptiall 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,        180
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.
Now Lycidas the Shepherds weep no more;
Hence forth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood.        185
  Thus sang the uncouth Swain to th’ Okes 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,        190
And now was dropt into the Western bay;
At last he rose, and twitch’d his Mantle blew:
To morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new.
 
Note 1. Edward King, of Christ College, Cambridge, is commemorated in this elegy. He was the author of some Latin verses, but his popularity seemed due to his high social standing. [back]
Note 2. Sisters of the Sacred Well: the Nine Muses of mythology, to whom a fountain on Mt. Helicon, called Aganippe, was sacred. [back]
Note 3. Seat of Jove doth spring: an altar on Mt. Helicon was dedicated to Jove, but Milton is responsible for the source of the “sacred well” springing from beneath it. [back]
Note 4. Damætas: a name in pastoral poetry; Cf. Theocritus, Idyl, vi. [back]
Note 5. Steep: Kerig-y-Druidion in Denbighshire (Warton). [back]
Note 6. Mona: the island of Anglesey, where in ancient times the Druids performed mystic rites in oak groves which have since perished. [back]
Note 7. Deva: the river Dee, which once formed part of the boundary line between England and Wales; called the “wisard stream” because of the superstition that it boded ill to the country towards which it changed its course. [back]
Note 8. Muse her self: Calliope. [back]
Note 9. For her enchanting son: Calliope was the mother of Orpheus, who losing his wife Eurydice, became so melancholy that he refused to take part in the Bacchic orgies, for which the infuriated Maenads tore him to pieces. [back]
Note 10. Amaryllis … Neæra: names in pastoral poetry. [back]
Note 11. The Blind fury: Atropos, who cuts the thread of life, was one of the three Fates. [back]
Note 12. Arethuse: a fountain in Sicily, representing the pastoral poetry of the Greek poets. [back]
Note 13. Mincius: a river near where Virgil was born, representing Latin pastoral poetry. [back]
Note 14. Herald of the sea: Triton, son of Neptune, trumpeter of the ocean. [back]
Note 15. Hippotades: Æolus, son of Hippotes. [back]
Note 16. Panope: tutelary genius of the river Cam. [back]
Note 17. Sanguine flower: the hyacinth, which was supposed to have sprung from the blood of Hyacinthus. [back]
Note 18. The Pilot of the Galilean Lake: pilot is here used in the sense of fishermen, thus St. Peter, who was given “two massy Keyes” of heaven, and is introduced as the representative of the Church. Cf. Matthew xvi. 18 and 19 “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter … And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” [back]
Note 19. Lean and flashy songs: unedifying and insipid sermons. [back]
Note 20. Wind and the rank mist: unwholesome doctrine. [back]
Note 21. Grim Woolf: the Catholic Church. [back]
Note 22. Two-handed engine: all editors confess this to be the “crux of the poem.” “Our first concern,” says Mr. Huntington “must be to get the general meaning of the passage. This is, ‘But the instrument of retribution is at hand and is ready once for all to smite the corrupt Church.’ The engine (literally, ‘something skilful’) is called two-handed because it is wielded with two hands. All this is clear. The difficulty comes in getting anything more definite out of the expression two-handed engine. If Milton intended to convey to our minds any particular image, which is doubtful, Jerram’s explanation is as good as any, namely, that Milton is here using the familiar simile of the axe, “laid unto the root of the trees” (Matt. iii. 10, etc). Other editors have sought to identify the two-handed engine with (2) the axe with which Laud was beheaded in 1645; (3) the sword of the Archangel Michael (P. L. vi. 250–253); (4) the “sharp twoedged sword” of Rev. i. 16; ii. 12–16; (5) the English Parliament with its two Houses (Masson); (6) the scythe of the executioner Death; (7) the two-handed sword of romance (Warburton); (8) the sword of Justice (Verity); (9) the civil and ecclesiastical powers; and (10) “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians vi. 17), which we wield by “a double grip on the Old Testament and on the New” (Morley). [back]
Note 23. Alpheus: river-god who pursued Arethusa. [back]
Note 24. Swart Star: Sirius, the dog-star, called swart because it was thought to be a swart-making, i.e., tanning star. [back]
Note 25. Fable of Bellerus: fabled abode of Bellerus, the name coined by Milton from Bellerium, the Roman name of Land’s End, in Cornwall. [back]
Note 26. Namancos and Bayona’s hold: Places in Spain, the first in Galicia, near Cape Finistere, and Bayona Castle (hold) to the southward on the sea. Verity has a note in which he attempts to show that Milton found these names in Mercator’s Atlas, two editions of which appeared in England, 1623 and 1636. [back]
 
 
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