Lycidas "Look Homeward, Angel!"

John Milton

"Look Homeward, Angel!"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: John Milton, in mourning the death of Lycidas–Edward King–tells the river god Alpheus to bid all the flowers of the fields to wilt and die in sympathy. He then speculates where the body of King may be–in the waters of the stormy Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland or in the seas off Land's End in Cornwall. Near Land's End is St. Michael's Mount, a rock off the south coast of England markedly similar to Mont St. Michel in France; the English mount looks toward the coast of Spain. The reference to St. Michael's Mount brings up the idea of the archangel Michael, the guardian angel who spoke to Moses on the mount. Milton tells him to look homeward, toward England, away from possible foreign threats, to the disaster at home; he conjures him to melt in pity for the death of Lycidas. Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) uses the phrase ironically as the title for his novel (1929). Finally in accordance with an old superstition still current among sailors to the effect that dolphins, or porpoises, push drowned people to shore with their noses, Milton asks them to bring home the hapless Lycidas. He says:

Look homeward, Angel! now, and melt with ruth:
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth.