Identify at least three aspects of pastoralism in Lycidas and discuss to what extent Milton uses the conventions of the pastoral elegy.

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kschweiz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The pastoral elegy will often represent death and an idyllic--rustic and untouched--setting. Pastoralism creates a feeling of nostalgia in readers, even if their experience is limited, for a simpler, more peaceful time. Much of the imagery of pastoralism revolves around farms, shepherds, fields, animals, and so forth. In terms of Milton's Lycidas, the mention of berries, leaves, the flock, the hill, the field, mentions of green, and the titling of Lycidas as "Shepherd" all fit the requirements of a standard pastoral.

Elegies generally open with an invocation to the Muse, as epics, an expression of grief, the articulation of that grief as song, and various symbols. In Lycidas, these are underwritten by the bitterness that later turns into the bittersweet. The narrator speaks of mourning, of a man gone in his prime, and insists "He must not flote upon his watry bear/Unwept," indicating that the grief must be expressed in order for this death not to be in vain. The end of the poem recommends against further mourning, however, as the shepherd is now one with the land over which he once presided in life, and watches over travelers still.