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John Milton in the poem, "Lycidas," is lamenting the loss of a friend (Edward King, a classmate) who drowned. Milton is considered the second most important English poet. With all those who had come before, Shakespeare and Jonson among them, Milton was still able to leave his mark in a unique way. He was familiar with classical literature and "works of the Judeo-Christian tradition." He was a strongly religious person himself, and his writing embraced the "importance of the individual"—in keeping with his most common topic:
...the soul in ethical conflict—the wayfaring, warfaring Christian.
In "Lycidas," Milton spends a great part of the poem speaking to the past and how they spent their time together and his bereavement that his friend is gone and will not return. He then turns to his need for others to remember his friend.
The first quote listed comes from the following passage, which is in quotes, meaning that he cites it from another piece. It is quoted from The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri By Dante Alighieri, also known simply as The Divine Comedy. It is not a comedy in the modern sense, and it basically tracks Dante's progression to Hell, then to Purgatory, and finally to Heaven. So the quotation is something Milton uses, originally written by Dante. The segment from which Milton takes the first line referred to must be taken in context with the rest of the passage. He is saying that one should not look for fame for our good deeds in this world, but in Heaven. The fame of mankind is nothing, but the fame pronounced of a life piously led should be sought upon meeting God. I believe he infers that things of the earth pass away, but things of Heaven do not.
"Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to the world, nor in broad rumour lies,
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in heaven expect thy meed."
The second quote, also read in context of the passage that it ends, states that those who mourn Lycidas should not do so, for he is not dead, though he may have drowned "beneath the watery floor." Milton then offers a metaphor comparing the drowning of Lycidas to the sun (the "day star") that also sinks into the ocean every evening, only to rise again and burn brightly in the sky, hence "flames in the forehead." The poem then continues to note that Lycidas may have died (been "sunk low") but he is now in Heaven ("mounted high"), so that one should not need to be sorrowful for him, but realize that he has been raised up by Christ (who "walked on waves").
Weep no more, woful Shepherds weep no more,
For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor,
So sinks the day-star in the Ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new spangled Ore,
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky…
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of Him that walked the waves...
It is easy to see Milton's concentration on the soul of mankind in reading his works. Here he laments the loss of a friend, but comforts others (and himself) with his belief that Lycidas is now in the presence of God.
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