Home  »  library  »  poem  »  From ‘Lycidas’

C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘Lycidas’

By John Milton (1608–1674)

  • (See full text.)
  • [In this monody the author bewails a learned friend, unfortunately drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637; and by occasion, foretells the ruin of our corrupted clergy, then in their height.—Note in original.]

  • YET once more, O ye laurels, and once more,

    Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,

    I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,

    And with forced fingers rude

    Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.

    Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear

    Compels me to disturb your season due;

    For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,

    Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.

    Who would not sing for Lycidas? he knew

    Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.

    He must not float upon his watery bier

    Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,

    Without the meed of some melodious tear.

    Begin, then, Sisters of the sacred well

    That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring;

    Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string.

    Hence with denial vain and coy excuse:

    So may some gentle Muse

    With lucky words favor my destined urn,

    And as she passes turn,

    And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud!

    For we were nursed upon the selfsame hill,

    Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill;

    Together both, ere the high lawns appeared

    Under the opening eyelids of the Morn,

    We drove afield, and both together heard

    What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,

    Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night,

    Oft till the star that rose at evening bright

    Toward heaven’s descent had sloped his westering wheel.

    Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute:

    Tempered to the oaten flute

    Rough Satyrs danced, and Fauns with cloven heel

    From the glad sound would not be absent long;

    And old Damœtas loved to hear our song.

    But oh, the heavy change, now thou art gone!

    Now thou art gone and never must return!

    Thee, Shepherd, thee the woods and desert caves,

    With wild thyme and the gadding vine o’ergrown,

    And all their echoes, mourn.

    The willows, and the hazel copses green,

    Shall now no more be seen

    Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.

    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.

    Where were ye, Nymphs, when the remorseless deep

    Closed o’er the head of your loved Lycidas?

    For neither were ye playing on the steep

    Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lie,

    Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high,

    Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream.

    Ay me! I fondly dream

    “Had ye been there,”—for what could that have done?

    What could the Muse herself that Orpheus bore,

    The Muse herself, for her enchanting son,

    Whom universal nature did lament,

    When, by the rout that made the hideous roar,

    His gory visage down the stream was sent,

    Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore?

    Alas! what boots it with uncessant care

    To 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 shade,

    Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair?

    Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise

    (That last infirmity of noble mind)

    To scorn delights and live laborious days;

    But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,

    And think to burst out into sudden blaze,

    Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears,

    And slits the thin-spun life. “But not the praise,”

    Phœbus replied, and touched my trembling ears:

    “Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,

    Nor in the glistering foil

    Set off to the world, nor in broad rumor lies,

    But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes

    And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;

    As he pronounces lastly on each deed,

    Of so much fame in heaven expect thy meed.


    Return, Alpheus,—the dread voice is past

    That shrunk thy streams; return, Sicilian Muse,

    And call the vales, and bid them hither cast

    Their bells and flowerets of a thousand hues.

    Ye valleys low, where the mild whispers use

    Of shades, and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,

    On whose fresh lap the Swart-Star sparely looks,

    Throw hither all your quaint enameled eyes,

    That on the green turf suck the honeyed showers,

    And purple all the ground with vernal flowers.

    Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,

    The tufted crow-toe, the pale jessamine,

    The white pink, and the pansy freaked with jet,

    The glowing violet,

    The musk-rose, and the well-attired woodbine,

    With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,

    And every flower that sad embroidery wears;

    Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed,

    And daffadillies fill their cups with tears,

    To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.

    For so, to interpose a little ease,

    Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.

    Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas

    Wash far away, where’er thy bones are hurled;

    Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,

    Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide

    Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;

    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 hapless youth.

    Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more;

    For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,

    Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor.

    So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,

    And yet anon repairs his drooping head,

    And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore

    Flames in the forehead of the morning sky;

    So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,

    Through the dear might of Him that walked the waves,

    Where, other groves and other streams along,

    With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,

    And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,

    In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.

    There entertain him all the saints above,

    In solemn troops, and sweet societies,

    That sing, and singing in their glory move,

    And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.

    Now, Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more;

    Henceforth thou art the genius of the shore,

    In thy large recompense, and shalt be good

    To all that wander in that perilous flood.

    THUS sang the uncouth swain to the oaks and rills,

    While the still morn went out with sandals gray;

    He touched the tender stops of various quills,

    With eager thought warbling his Doric lay.

    And now the sun had stretched out all the hills,

    And now was dropt into the western bay;

    At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue:

    To-morrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.