Lycidas "The Pilot Of The Galilean Lake"

John Milton

"The Pilot Of The Galilean Lake"

Context: Milton, after a passage of lamentation for Lycidas, or Edward King, who was drowned in the Irish Sea, wonders why anyone should pursue the poet's calling, as poetry is a neglected art. Why would it not be better to live a life of pleasure than to undergo the pains of writing poetry? But the desire for fame urges him on, to scorn delight and to live in labor to achieve his ends. When, however, the poet, after all of his work, thinks to get the fame that he so eagerly strives for, the fates cut his thread of life and he dies. Milton then reflects that fame in the world of men is not really what he desires; rather, it is the approbation of God, the heavenly reward for work well done: this was one of Milton's basic ideas and is found elsewhere in his poetry. He then turns back to Lycidas and asks what hard fate doomed him to death. Could it have been that the ship he sailed on was built during an eclipse and so was cursed? He next turns his attention to the River Cam, the stream that flows through Cambridge, where the two, King and Milton, were fellow students; and finally St. Peter with his Keys of the Kingdom, who says that there were more than enough unworthy people who might have died instead of the poet.

Next Camus, reverend sire, went footing slow,
His mantle hairy, and his bonnet sedge,
Inwrought with figures dim, and on the edge
Like to that sanguine flower inscribed with woe.
"Ah! Who hath reft," quoth he, "my dearest pledge?"
Last came, and last did go,
The Pilot of the Galilean Lake.
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain,
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain).
He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake:
"How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as for their bellies' sake,
Creep and intrude and climb into the fold?"