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Friedman Lycidas

Page history last edited by Eric Leonidas 8 years, 8 months ago

Friedman, Donald M.  "Lycidas: The Swain’s Paideia." Milton's Selected Poetry and Prose.  Ed. Jason P. Rosenblatt.  NY: Norton, 2011. 526-543.



     Donald Friedman argues in “Lycidas: The Swain’s Paideia” that Milton has displayed the process of a poet’s self-education through the use of a pastoral elegy. Friedman asserts that Milton has used the death of Lycidas to attempt to understand his own uncertainty as a poet. By questioning the gods, saints, and nature Milton arrives at a revelation. Finding his own poetic imagination and the pastoral mode as it currently exists inadequate, the swain turns to prayer and a surrendering of his personal will to the divine. Upon this admittance of his inability and his surrender a new vision and voice are granted to the poet.


Evidence #1:

     Friedman poses that the swain’s refusal to acknowledge and accept the answers he is given by Phoebus, Peter, nature, and those other voices that appear in the poem is in actuality the poet struggling against the knowledge that will force him to admit his own inabilities and the inadequacy of the pastoral convention. Milton demands explanation for his friend’s death and the role of the poet but when he receives answers the swain does not spend any time with those responses or accept what he has been told and, dissatisfied with the replies, he immediately moves on to questioning another. This refusal is a defense against the knowledge he wants to ignore that he as a poet is lacking and the pastoral mode he uses is incomplete until he hands his will over to the divine. Ability and insight are provided only once he admits his own lack and the poet is able to achieve a successful pastoral mode after that point.


Evidence #2:

     Support for Friedman’s claim that Lycidas is a poem of self-education can be found in a comparison of the beginning and end of the poem. In the beginning the swain speaks of being unready as he “has not yet arrived at a desired state of ‘ripeness’” to write this poem well (Friedman 528). Then throughout the majority of the poem his use of the pastoral elegy seems lacking and disjointed; a display of this lack of preparedness. It is only once the poet comes to a revelation of what he must do (admit his personal inability and surrender to the divine) that he is able to display a new voice and a more complete pastoral convention.  The poet has gone through the development of his understanding throughout the course of Lycidas and at the end uses this education to show the new abilities and confidence he gained from it.



     Though I agree with Friedman’s claim that Milton finds the traditional pastoral elegy inadequate throughout the majority of Lycidas, I am not fully persuaded that the poet admits the limits of his poetic power and surrenders his will to the divine. Note the analysis of these lines late in the poem:


     Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,

     Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old,

     Where the great vision of the guarded mount

     Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold;

     Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth;

     And, O ye Dolphins, waft the haples youth.  (Milton lines 159-165)


Friedman feels that this is the turning point in the poem. Here the swain has recognized his lack of ability and turns to prayer, surrendering his will to the divine in the form of St. Michael on the Mount and the “legendary dolphins” (Friedman 536). Friedman contends it is this surrender that allows for the poet to gain a correct vision and new voice throughout the end of Lycidas. I, however, do not find his interpretation a satisfactory explanation for this crux moment in the poem. There is not enough evidence contained within the poem that the poet has recognized his lack of ability and the need to hand his will over to a higher power to be convincing. This is yet another moment of questioning for the poet, not a moment of revelation where he surrenders his will to the divine. I am more inclined to agree with Fish’s argument that rather than a revelation and the appearance of a new voice for the poet, the end of the poem is once again a speaker other than the poet (Fish 220). This renders Friedman’s argument flawed in my eyes.


Another Opinion:

   I too am not persuaded that Milton is using Lycidas as a means of coming to terms with his own inadequacy. There are not enough references to his inadequacy to support this. Rather, I would argue that the Milton is using the pastoral eulogy, and his friend's death, to reflect upon a poet's legacy. The poem begins by explaining that he would sing for Lycidas, who's body had never been found and who must not go unsung.

 "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." (lines 45-49)

Here Milton seems to refer to paint a picture of death, however tragic, as a natural part of every-day life. The moral of the poem seems to be that everyone dies, yet one may achieve some form of immortality through their art. To this end, Milton writes "Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil" (line 78). If anything, this poem does not appear to be an admission of inadequacy. Rather, it seems to be an articulation of Milton's ambition to be remembered through his work. (Brian Johnson)


Works Cited


Fish, Stanley E, “Lycidas: A Poem Finally Anonymous.” Milton’s ‘Lycidas’: The Tradition and the Poem. Ed. C. A. Patrides. University of Missouri, 1961. 207-224.


Friedman, Donald M.  "Lycidas: The Swain’s Paideia." Milton's Selected Poetry and Prose.  Ed. Jason P. Rosenblatt.  NY: Norton, 2011. 526-543.


Milton, John. “Lycidas.” Milton’s Selected Poetry and Prose. Ed. Jason P. Rosenblatt. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 69-75.

Comments (5)

Eric Leonidas said

at 3:22 pm on Feb 13, 2012

And be sure to look up (and be able to explain) "paideia," if you don't know its meaning.

Bethany Sullivan said

at 6:56 pm on Feb 13, 2012

For my group: I thought I was going to come and find everything done (wrote down the wrong date) but I'm working on the summary right now. Should be up by 9 tonight. I'm also going to put in my opinion. Feel free to make changes to whatever I do. I'll assume each of you will take an evidence but I'll come up with 2 and if nothing is up at 3:30 tomorrow I'll put them in.

Bethany Sullivan said

at 10:23 pm on Feb 13, 2012

Summary took longer than intended - it took forever to get it down to about 100 words. Feel free to edit.

Bethany Sullivan said

at 3:24 am on Feb 14, 2012

As I wrote in the comments for the opinion I wrote: I am not sure if I wrote too much. There was not a limit given on how long the evidence/opinion should be but the other examples kept it pretty short. I felt I needed more room to fully explain my position but if anyone thinks it is too long feel free to edit.

Bethany Sullivan said

at 1:12 pm on Feb 14, 2012

I have not seen any other activity or comments on this page and I'm getting a bit nervous so I filled in the evidences. I was going to wait until 3:30 but I am not sure that I will have access to a computer at that point.

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