Lycidas "Fame Is The Spur That The Clear Spirit Doth Raise"

John Milton

"Fame Is The Spur That The Clear Spirit Doth Raise"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Milton asks of what use is the incessant work necessary to excel as a serious poet, since serious poetry is slighted and strict dedication to the Muse is thankless. Would it not be better, he asks, to follow the example of others and devote his energies to the composition of erotic poetry? He answers his question by saying that the desire for fame is what makes the clear or elevated spirit scorn the delights of doing the easy and pleasant task and makes him live his days in arduous labor so that he will make a lasting name for himself. But when we hope to find the fair reward for which we strive and when we think to burst out in a blaze of glory, there comes Atropos, she who cannot be turned, the Fate who cuts off with her shears the thread of life and so terminates our lives without logic or reason. Milton states the case thus:

Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th'abhorréd shears,
And slits the thin-spun life.