Lycidas "Whom Universal Nature Did Lament"

John Milton

"Whom Universal Nature Did Lament"

Context: In Lycidas, Milton laments the death of Edward King, a fellow student at Cambridge University, who was drowned in the Irish Sea. Although the poem purports to be an elegy for King, its essential subject is Milton and his desire for poetic fame. He pictures Lycidas, or King, and himself as feeding their flocks of sheep and melodiously piping. But a change comes about: Lycidas is dead, and all nature laments his passing. Milton asks where the Nymphs were when the sea closed over his head: they were not on the mountains of Wales where the ancient bards, the Druids, lie buried, nor where the River Dee flows into the sea. But, he asks, what could they have done for King, when even a great Muse was not able to preserve the life of the celebrated Orpheus, whose slaying by the maddened Thracian women was a universal calamity:

Where were ye Nymphs when the remorseless deep
Closed over the head of your loved Lycidas?
For neither were ye playing on the steep,
Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lie,
Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high,
Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream:
Ay me, I fondly dream!–
Had ye been there–for what could that have done?
What could the Muse herself that Orpheus bore,
The Muse herself, for her enchanting son
Whom universal nature did lament,
When by the rout that made the hideous roar,
His gory visage down the stream was sent,
Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore?