"To Tend The Homely Slighted Shepherd's Trade"

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Context: Milton, in the pastoral vein, rebukes the nymphs for allowing Lycidas–or Edward King (1612-1637)–to drown, but then says that they were not present when his death occurred. He admits that in addressing the nymphs he is but idly dreaming, as the Muse Calliope could not save the life of her son Orpheus; Milton thus ties Lycidas, a maker of music, to Orpheus, one of the greatest musicians of mythical times. He then turns his attention to himself and wonders what profit there is in his ceaseless efforts to write serious poetry–"to tend the homely slighted shepherd's trade"–since his efforts seem fruitless. Would it not be better, he asks, to abandon sterner tasks for the easier work of writing erotic poetry, as others do? He would sport with the nymphs Amaryllis and Neaera; that is, enjoy himself by writing love poetry. He says:

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Alas! what boots it with incessant careTo tend the homely slighted shepherd's trade,And strictly meditate the thankless Muse?Were it not better done as others use,To sport with Amaryllis in the shadeOr with the tangles of Neaera's hair?

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