Page images

language such as curs, not affluent in rhyme, presents great difficulties; the rhymes are apt to be forced, or the substance commonplace. But, when successfully handled, it has a unity and a beauty of effect which place the strict Sonnet above the less compact and less lyrical systems adopted by Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, and other Elizabethan poets.


88 Cromwell returned from Ireland in 1650, and Marvel!
probably wrote his lines soon after, whilst living at
Nunappleton in the Fairfax household. It is hence
not surprising that (st. 21-24) he should have been
deceived by Cromwell's professed submissiveness to
the Parliament which, when it declined to register
his decrees, he expelled by armed violence :-one
despotism, by natural law, replacing another.
poet's insight has, however, truly prophesied that
result in his last two lines.




68 89 Lycidas: The person here lamented is Milton's col

lege contemporary, Edward King, drowned in 1637 whilst crossing from Chester to Ireland.

Strict Pastoral Poetry was first written or perfected by the Dorian Greeks settled in Sicily: but the conventional use of it, exhibited more magnificently in Lycidas than in any other pastoral, is apparently of Roman origin. Milton, employing the noble freedom of a great artist, has here united ancient mythology, with what may be called the modern mythology of Camus and Saint Peter,-to direct Christian images. Yet the poem, if it gains in historical interest, suffers in poetry by the harsh intrusion of the writer's narrow and violent theological politics.The metrical structure of this glorious elegy is partly derived from Italian models.

[blocks in formation]

This Ode, beyond doubt one of the finest in our language, and more in Milton's style than has been reached by any other poet, is occasionally obscure from imitation of the condensed Latin syntax. The meaning of st. 5 is 'rivalry or hostility are the same to a lofty spirit, and limitation more hateful than opposition.' The allusion in st. 11 is to the old physical doctrines of the non-existence of a vacuum and the impenetrability of matter:-in st. 17 to the omen traditionally connected with the foundation of the Capitol at Rome:-forced, fated. The ancient belief that certain years in life complete natural periods and are hence peculiarly exposed to death, is introduced in st. 26 by the word climacteric.

1. 11 Sisters of the sacred well: the Muses, said to frequent the Pierian Spring at the foot of Mount Olympus.

1. 10 Mona: Anglesea, called by the Welsh poets, the Dark Island, from its dense forests. Deva (1. 11) the Dee a river which may have derived its magical

AA 2


character from Celtic traditions: it was long the boundary of Briton and English.-These places are introduced, as being near the scene of the shipwreck. Orpheus (1. 14) was torn to pieces by Thracian women. Amaryllis and Neaera (1. 24, 25) names used here for the love-idols of poets: as Damoetas previously for a shepherd. L. 31 the blind Fury: Atropos, fabled to cut the thread of life.

71 89 Arethuse (1. 1) and Mincius: Sicilian and Italian waters here alluded to as representing the pastoral poetry of Theocritus and Vergil. L. 4 oat: pipe, used here like Collins' oaten stop 1. 1, No. 186, for Song. L. 12 Hippotades: Aeolus, god of the Winds. Panope (1. 15) a Nereid. Certain names of local deities in the Hellenic mythology render some feature in the natural landscape, which the Greeks studied and analysed with their usual unequalled insight and feeling. Panope seems to express the boundlessness of the ocean-horizon when seen from a height, as compared with the limited sky-line of the land in hilly countries such as Greece or Asia Minor. Camus (1. 19) the Cam: put for King's University. The sanguine flower (1. 22) the Hyacinth of the ancients : probably our Iris. The Pilot (1. 25) Saint Peter, figuratively introduced as the head of the Church on earth, to foretell the ruin of our corrupted clergy,' as Milton regarded them, 'then in their heighth' under Laud's primacy.



1. 1 scrannel: screeching; apparently Milton's coinage (Masson). L. 5 the wolf: the Puritans of the time were excited to alarm and persecution by a few conversions to Roman Catholicism which had recently occurred. Alpheus (1. 9) a stream in Southern Greece, supposed to flow underseas to join the Arethuse. Swart star (1. 15) the Dog-star, called swarthy because its heliacal rising in ancient times occurred soon after midsummer: 1. 19 rathe: early. L. 36 moist vows: either tearful prayers, or prayers for one at sea. Bellerus (1. 37) a giant, apparently created here by Milton to personify Belerium, the ancient title of the Land's End. The great Vision:-the story was that the Archangel Michael had appeared on the rock by Marazion in Mount's Bay which bears his name. Milton calls on him to turn his eyes from the south homeward, and to pity Lycidas, if his body has drifted into the troubled waters off the Land's End. Finisterre being the land due south of Marazion, two places in that district (then through our trade with Corunna probably less unfamiliar to English ears), are named,-Namancos now Mujio in Galicia, Bayona north of the Minho, or perhaps a fortified rock (one of the Cies Islands) not unlike Saint Michael's Mount, at the entrance of Vigo Bay.


73 89 1. 6 ore: rays of golden light. Doric lay (1. 25) Sicilian, pastoral.



93 The assault was an attack on London expected in 1642, when the troops of Charles I reached Brentford. 'Written on his door' was in the original title of this sonnet. Milton was then living in Aldersgate Street.

The Emathian Conqueror: When Thebes was destroyed (B.c. 335) and the citizens massacred by thousands, Alexander ordered the house of Pindar to be spared.

1. 2, the repeated air Of sad Electra's poet: Plutarch has a tale that when the Spartan confederacy in 404 B.C. took Athens, a proposal to demolish it was rejected through the effect produced on the commanders by hearing part of a chorus from the Electra of Euripides sung at a feast. There is however no apparent congruity between the lines quoted (167, 168 Ed. Dindorf) and the result ascribed to them. 95 A fine example of a peculiar class of Poetry;-that written by thoughtful men who practised this Art but little. Jeremy Taylor, Bishop Berkeley, Dr. Johnson, Lord Macaulay, have left similar speci

mens. 78 98 These

79 99 80 100

utiful verses

be compared with Wordsworth's great Ode on Immortality: and a copy of Vaughan's very rare little volume appears in the list of Wordsworth's library.-In imaginative intensity, Vaughan stands beside his contemporary Marvell.

Favonius: the spring wind.

Themis: the goddess of justice. Skinner was grandson by his mother to Sir E. Coke :-hence, as pointed out by Mr. Keightley, Milton's allusion to the bench. L. 8: Sweden was then at war with Poland, and France with the Spanish Netherlands. 82 103 1. 28 Sydnaean showers: either in allusion to the conversations in the 'Arcadia,' or to Sidney himself as a model of 'gentleness' in spirit and demeanour. 85 105 Delicate humour, delightfully united to thought, at once simple and subtle. It is full of conceit and paradox, but these are imaginative, not as with most of our Seventeenth Century poets, intellectual only. 88 110 Elizabeth of Bohemia: Daughter to James I, and ancestor of Sophia of Hanover. These lines are a fine specimen of gallant and courtly compliment.

89 111 Lady M. Ley was daughter to Sir J. Ley, afterwards Earl of Marlborough, who died March, 1629, coincidently with the dissolution of the third Parliament of Charles' reign. Hence Milton poetically compares his death to that of the Orator Isocrates of Athens, after Philip's victory in 328 B.C.

93 118 A masterpiece of humour, grace, and gentle feeling,

[blocks in formation]

all, with Herrick's unfailing art, kept precisely within the peculiar key which he chose,-or Nature for him,-in his Pastorals. L. 2 the god unshorn: Imberbis Apollo. St. 2 beads: prayers.

96 123 With better taste, and less diffuseness, Quarles might (one would think) have retained more of that high place which he held in popular estimate among his contemporaries.

99 127 From Prison: to which his active support of Charles I twice brought the high-spirited writer. L. 7 Gods: thus in the original; Lovelace, in his fanciful way, making here a mythological allusion. Birds, commonly substituted, is without authority. St. 3, 1. 1 committed to prison.

100 128 104 133

St. 21. 4 blue-god: Neptune.

Waly waly: an exclamation of sorrow, the root and the pronunciation of which are preserved in the word caterwaul. Brae, hillside: burn, brook: busk, adorn. Saint Anton's Well below Arthur's Seat by Edinburgh. Cramasie, crimson.

105 134 This beautiful example of early simplicity is found in a Song-book of 1620.

106 135 107 136

108 137

112 141

burd, maiden.

corbies, crows: fail, turf: hause, neck: theek, thatch. -If not in their origin, in their present form this, with the preceding poem and 133, appear due to the Seventeenth Century, and have therefore been placed in Book II.

The poetical and the prosaic, after Cowley's fashion, blend curiously in this deeply-felt elegy.

Perhaps no poem in this collection is inore delicately fancied, more exquisitely finished. By placing his description of the Fawn in a young girl's mouth, Marvell has, as it were, legitimated that abundance of imaginative hyperbole to which he is always partial he makes us feel it natural that a maiden's favourite should be whiter than milk, sweeter than sugar-lilies without, roses within." The poet's imagination is justified in its seeming extravagance by the intensity and unity with which it invests his picture.

113 142 The remark quoted in the note to No. 65 applies equally to these truly wonderful verses. Marvell here throws himself into the very soul of the Garden with the imaginative intensity of Shelley in his West Wind. This poem appears also as a translation in Marvell's works. The most striking verses in it, here quoted as the book is rare, answer more or less to stanzas 2 and 6:-

Alma Quies, teneo te! et te, germana Quietis,
Simplicitas! vos ergo diu per templa, per urbes
Quaesivi, regum perque alta palatia, frustra:
Sed vos hortorum per opaca silentia, longe
Celarunt plantae virides, et concolor umbra.


115 143 St. 3 tutties: nosegays. St. 4 silly simple.

116 144


The mountain-nymph; compare Wordsworth's Sonnet,
No. 254. L. 38 is in apposition to the preceding, by
a syntactical license not uncommon with Milton.
1. 14 Cynosure; the Pole Star. Corydon, Thyrsis,
&c. Shepherd names from the old Idylls. Rebeck
(1. 28) an elementary form of violin.

1. 24 Jonson's learned sock: His comedies are deeply
coloured by classical study. L. 28 Lydian airs:
used here to express a light and festive style of
ancient music. The Lydian Mode,' one of the seven
original Greek Scales, is nearly identical with our

120 145 1. 3 bestead: avail. L. 19 starr'd Ethiop queen: Cassiopeia, the legendary Queen of Ethiopia, and thence translated amongst the constellations. Cynthia: the Moon: Milton seems here to have transferred to her chariot the dragons anciently assigned to Demeter and to Medea.

Hermes, called Trismegistus, a mystical writer of the Neo-Platonist school. L. 27 Thebes, &c. subjects of Athenian Tragedy. Buskin'd (1. 30) tragic, in opposition to sock above. L. 32 Musaeus: a poet in Mythology. L. 37 him that left half told: Chaucer in his incomplete 'Squire's Tale.'





[ocr errors]


129 151

L'Allégro and Il Penseroso. It is a striking proof of Milton's astonishing power, that these, the earliest great Lyrics of the Landscape in our language, should still remain supreme in their style for range, variety, and melodious beauty. The Bright and the Thoughtful aspects of Nature and of Life are their subjects: but each is preceded by a mythological introduction in a mixed Classical and Italian manner.-With that of L'Allegro may be compared a similar mythe in the first Section of the first Book of S. Marmion's graceful Cupid and Psyche, 1637.

great bards: Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser, are here presumably intended. L. 9 frounced: curled. The Attic Boy (1. 10) Cephalus.

124 146 Emigrants supposed to be driven towards America

by the government of Charles I.


1. 9, 10. But apples, &c. A fine example of Marvell's imaginative hyperbole.

1. 6 concent: harmony.

- 147 128 149

A lyric of a strange, fanciful, yet solemn beauty :-
Cowley's style intensified by the mysticism of Henry
More. St. 2 monument: the World.

Entitled 'A Song in Honour of St. Cecilia's Day:

« PreviousContinue »