Examine Lycidas by Milton as a pastoral elegy.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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salimj | Student



Pastoral poetry is a genre which narrates the purity of rural/country life.  Very often it also relates to the lives of a shepherd.  Country/rural life is glorified as ‘pure’ from all problems of life.  A pastoral elegy can be an elegy which takes up the pastoral poetic style in narration.  An elegy being a poem written on the death of some near or dear ones, pastoral elegy relates to both death and idyllic rural life. This genre (pastoral elegy) is initiated by Theocritus and made famous by Virgil and Spencer.


Lycidas by John Milton is an elegy on his friend Edward King who was drowned on a voyage to Ireland. In its very form it is pastoral. In this poem we can see excellent images of nature and village life. In this elegy Edward King is been pasteurized as a shepherd in its idyllic setting.


Milton borrows the name Lycidas and gives to Edward King from the profounder of pastoral elegy (Theocritus) himself. He has taken this name from Theocritus’ Idylls in which Lycidas is a shepherd and poet.  By giving the very name Lycidas to King, Milton fulfills the first requirement of a pastoral poetry.  In this genre we can also see praises for the shepherd.  Here in Lycidas Milton calls King as selfless even though he was of clergy.


Lycidas begins with a pastoral image, “Symbols of poetic fame; as their berries are not yet ripe.” When we read these lines we are sure to get a picture of nature.  Milton tries to compare Cambridge to pasture, latter on he tries to speak about the heavy change suffered by nature because of the death of King.  He says that willows, hazel groves, woods and caves lament Lycidas’s death. At the end of the poem Lycidas appears as a rejuvenated figure, Milton says, “Burnished by the sun’s rays at down, King resplendently ascends heavenward to his eternal reward.”


The balance between elegy and pastoral imagery throughout the poem has created an impression that Lycidas is one of the most original pastoral elegies.