Difficulty in Meter and Allusion in Lycidas

In John Milton’s pastoral elegy Lycidas, he discusses the death of a friend and whom the blame is on. The poem’s flow sounds a little tricky, but it uses iambic pentameter which makes reading it a little easier.. and then it doesn’t. Every so often, Milton drops in a line that breaks from the standard meter. It’s difficult to figure out at what pace the poem should be read and with what flow. There’s no obvious rhyme scheme. For the lines that don’t follow iambic pentameter, I’m not sure if he is doing this to place emphasis on those lines, or just because it sounds better when said aloud. I look at the lines where he breaks from iambic pentameter and don’t see any clear reason as to why he would choose these lines. For example: he says “so may some gentle muse”, “and all their echoes mourn” and “when first the white thorn blows”. This different meter doesn’t seem to mark a particular shifting point in the poem or a line that needs to be emphasized.

 

Another point that makes this poem a difficult read is the density of allusions. There seems to be a reference to some God or other literary work every few lines. In one stanza alone, he mentions Mona, Deva, Orpheus, and Hebrus. Not being familiar with these names/places, I had to look them up. Including all these allusions makes the poem directed towards a more educated audience, otherwise a lot of these references might fly past you, like they did me.

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