"I Come To Pluck Your Berries Harsh And Crude"

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Context: John Milton wrote Lycidas as a tribute to his Cambridge University acquaintance Edward King (1612-1637), who was drowned in the Irish Sea, but it has long been realized that Milton felt only little grief for King. The poem, which was written for a volume of elegies on King, is in the pastoral tradition, and Milton pictures King and himself as companion "shepherds"–or poets. Actually, King was a very mediocre versifier, being the author of nothing more than a few inconsequential Latin poems. Besides being a lament for King, Lycidas is also a satire on the clergy, it being Milton's contention that England was betrayed by her intellectuals. Lycidas is also about Milton himself, his poetical failures and his premonitions of the greater things to come. He begins the poem by saying that he is going to pluck berries of the laurel, the myrtle, and the ivy–all symbols for the composition of poetry. When he calls the berries "crude," or unripe, he is admitting his artistic immaturity, a subject that worried him in his sonnet "How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth." He begins Lycidas thus:

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Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once moreYe myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,And with forc'd fingers rude,Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.

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