Denial or Acceptance in Lycidas?

Lycidas is a rather lengthy elegy written by John Milton for his dear friend Edward King. Milton doe not refer to King directly and instead names him “Lycidas.” In the first 35 lines, the speaker established his friendship with his late friend. They “were nursed upon the selfsame hill” (23), which basically means that they were childhood friends. These two friends would wake up with the sun, tend to their sheep, and have a great time in the pasture. The speaker is filled with these memories and recalls some of them.

The speaker processes the death of his friend in an odd way. He quickly starts to place blame on others. He first goes to the nymphs and asks where they were at the time his friend died. The speaker brings other characters into his song. He calls on Triton, the river Cam, St. Peter, and Apollo. All of these characters talk or are personified by the speaker. Most of them join the speaker’s anger and wonder with him how this has happened. The speaker continually confronts each character asking what they have done and how his friend has died. To me, it seems he is in denial. He even says, “Weep on more/ For Lycidas [is not dead]” (165-66). The speaker is hanging on to all hope that his friend will come back from the ocean. He mentions how the sun rises and sets, each night setting underneath the ocean just as his friend has. The speaker compares his friend to the sun, saying that if the sun can set beneath the ocean horizon and continue to rise, it is quite possible his friend can do the same.

In the last couple lines of the poem, there is clearly a shift in tone from the melancholy sadness to hope. This could be the speaker finally starting to accept the death of his friend, and mourn properly.

One comment

  • Nice post, Marion. You’ve clearly got a good handle on the poem, and have picked up on a lot of the key moves and images of the text. I wonder, though, about the question of difficulty here. What gave you trouble in reading the poem? Or, better, what caught your eye?

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