The main themes in Lycidas are death, rebirth, and corruption.
- Death: The poem is an elegy grappling with the death of Lycidas, a character who stands in for Milton’s late friend Edward King.
- Rebirth: Milton finds solace in the idea that death can lead to renewal.
- Corruption: In his elegy, Milton weaves in criticisms of various religious authorities he deems corrupt.
Last Updated on July 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 303
Death is John Milton's purpose for writing Lycidas. Edward King, a friend he attended college with, drowned, and his body was lost at sea. Milton was asked to write an elegy for him. He gives King the poetic moniker Lycidas and mourns him in the poem. He says King was taken before the prime of his years. He asks the Nymphs why they did not intervene before realizing that they couldn't even save their own loved ones at times. Death is the guiding principle for the poem and is discussed, mourned, accepted, and finally overcome by Milton through his lasting lines.
Rebirth is another theme in Milton's poem. In the end, Milton's speaker says that Lycidas isn't really dead. Rather, he is like the sun which sinks into the ocean at night but rises high again in the morning. By focusing on the possibility of rebirth, he offers comfort to people who mourn the dead. The idea that some part of Lycidas lives on is a positive one that can help people who still miss him. It gives them some kind of hope that he's not completely gone from the world, even though they cannot even bury his body.
Corruption in the church is another theme—and one that might seem out of place at first. Milton addresses Saint Peter and discusses the fact that some of the people who represent the Church of England aren't what they should be. He puts King above them by showing that he was a good man while the other men aren't. Instead, they're more interested in their own careers than in doing good things for the Lord. Saint Peter agrees with him on all counts and also mourns the loss of King with him. Milton refers to Saint Peter as The Pilot of the Galilean lake.