"The Gadding Vine"

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Context: Lycidas is an elegy, but the basic subject is Milton, and not the dead person; the poem was written for a volume of verse in honor of Edward King, a Cambridge University student drowned in the Irish Sea. He was not an intimate friend of Milton, and the poem, in its elegiac features, is conventional rather than impassioned; it follows the pattern of the tradition of the classical pastoral elegy. Milton begins his poem by indicating, by references to laurel, myrtle, and ivy, that he is much concerned about his own poetical fame. He then announces that Lycidas, or Edward King, is dead; he says that Lycidas was also a poet, although King's productions were only a few mediocre Latin verses. Milton indicates that he and King were fellow shepherds, that is, students at Cambridge; he refers to their feeding their sheep in the hills, although the region around Cambridge is remarkably flat. ("Gadding" means wandering.) The poet describes their taking their flocks afield, the music of the oaten pipe, the dancing of the satyrs and fauns–but there has been a change:

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But O the heavy change, now thou art gone,Now thou art gone, and never must return!Thee shepherd, thee the woods, and desert caves,With wild thyme and the gadding vine o'ergrown,And all their echoes mourn.The willows and the hazel copses greenShall now no more be seen,Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.As killing as the canker to the rose,Or taint-worm to the weanling herds that graze,Or frost to flowers, that their gay wardrobe wear,When first the white-thorn blows,Such, Lycidas, thy loss to shepherd's ear.

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