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Now Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more;
Thus sang the uncouth swain to the oaks and rills,
6 " Without the meed of some melodious tear.”—Catullus uses the word in a like sense, when alluding to the elegies of Simonides in his touching expostulation with his friend, Cornificius, whom he requests to come and see him during a time of depression:
The first of these lines has a poor prosaic effect, like one of the inane mixtures of familiarity and assumed importance in the “ Pindaric” writers of the age. And“ hence with denial vain” is a
very unnecessary piece of harshness towards the poor Muses, who surely were not disposed to ill-treat the young poet.
18 « Clos’d o’er the head,” &c.— The very best image of drowning he could have chosen, especially during calm weather, both as regards sufferer and spectator. The combined sensations of darkness, of liquid enclosure, and of the final interposition of a heap of waters between life and the light of day, are those which most absorb the faculties of a drowning person.
Haud insubmersus loquor.
19 “ Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream.”—The river Dee, in Spenser's and Drayton's poetry, and old British history, is celebrated for its ominous character and its magicians.
Sanguine flow'r inscribed with wo.”—The ancient poetical hyacinth, proved, I think, by Professor Martyn, in his Virgil's Georgics, to be the turk’s-cap lily, the only flower on which characters like the Greek exclamation of wo, AI, AI, are to be found. The idea in Milton is from Moschus’s Elegy on the Death of Bion:
Νυν, υακινθε, λαλει τα σα γραμματα, και πλεον αι αι
Now more than ever say, 0, hyacinth !
21 “ Last came and last did go.”-- —“ This passage,” says Hazlitt, “ which alludes to the clerical character of Lycidas, has been found fault with, as combining the truths of the Christian religion with the fiction of the Heathen mythology. I conceive there is very little foundation for this objection, either in good reason or good taste. I will not go so far as to defend Camoens, who, in his Lusiad, makes Jupiter send Mercury with a dream to propagate the Catholic religion ; nor do I know that it is generally proper to introduce the two things in the same poem, though I see no objection to it here; but of this I am quite sure, that there is no inconsistency or natural repugnance between this poetical and religious faith in the same mind. To the understanding, the belief of the one is incompatible with that of the other, but, in the imagination, they not only may, but do constantly, co-exist. I will venture to go farther, and maintain that every classical scholar, however orthodox a Christian he may be, is an honest Heathen at heart. This requires explanation. Whoever, then, attaches a reality to any idea beyond the mere name, has, to a certain extent (though not an abstract), an habitual and practical belief in it. Now, to any one familiar with the names of the personages of the heathen mythology, they convey a positive identity beyond the mere name. We refer them to something out of ourselves. It is only by an effort of abstraction that we divest ourselves of the idea of their reality ; all our involuntary prejudices are on their side. This is enough for the poet. They impose on the imagination by the attractions of beauty and grandeur. They come down to us in sculpture and in song. We have the same associations with them as if they had really been: for the be. lief of the fiction in ancient times has produced all the same effects as the reality could have done. It was a reality to the minds of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and through them it is reflected to us.”—Lectures on the English Poets (Templeman's edition), p. 338.
22 “ How well could I have spard,” &c. “ He here animadverts," says Warton, “ to the endowments of the church, at the same time insinuating that they were shared by those only who sought the emoluments of the sacred office, to the exclusion of a learned and conscientious clergy.” An old complaint! Meantime the church has continued mild and peaceful. An incalculable blessing!
23 “ Return, Alpheus,” &c.--How much more sweet and Christian Paganism itself sounds, after those threats of religious violence! The "two-handed engine" is supposed to mean the axe preparing for poor, weak, violent Laud ! Milton was now beginning to feel the sectarian influence of his father; one, unfortunately, of a sullen and unpoetical sort.
24 “ Honied showers.”—There is an awkwardness of construction between this and the preceding line which hurts the beautiful idea of the flowers "sucking the honied showers," by seeming to attribute the suction to their “eyes.” There might, indeed, be learned allowance for such an ellipsis; and we hardly know where to find the proper noun substantive or predicate for the verb, if it be not so; but the image is terribly spoilt by it.
Glowing violet.”—Why “glowing ?” The pansy (heart's. ease) “ freak’d with jet” is exquisite ; equally true to letter and spirit.
28 “ The great Vision of the guarded Mount.”—This is the Archangel Michael, the guardian of seamen, sitting on the Mount off the coast of Cornwall known by his name, and looking towards the coast of Gallicia. It is rather surprising that Milton, with his angelical tendencies, did not take the opportunity of saying more of him. But the line is a grand one.
COMUS THE SORCERER.
Thyrsis tells the Brothers of a Lady, that their Sister has fallen into
the hands of the Sorcerer Comus, dwelling in a wood.
Within the navel of this hideous wood,
And stole upon the air, that even Silence
O night, and shades !
Yes, and keep it still ;