Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
Lycidas
By John Milton (1608–1674)
 
[1637; æt. 29.]

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.        5
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        10
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,        15
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 favour my destin’d urn;        20
And, as he passes, turn,
And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud.
  For we were nursed upon the self-same hill,
Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill;
Together both, ere the high lawns appear’d        25
Under the opening eyelids of the morn,
We drove afield, and both together heard
What time the grey fly winds her sultry horn,
Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the star, that rose at evening bright,        30
Toward heaven’s descent had slop’d his westering wheel.
Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute,
Temper’d to the oaten flute;
Rough Satyrs danc’d, and fauns with cloven heel
From the glad sound would not be absent long;        35
And old Damœtas loved to hear our song.
  But, O 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,        40
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,        45
Or taint-worm to the weanling herds that graze,
Or frost to flowers, that their gay wardrobe wear,
When first the whitethorn blows;
Such, Lycidas, thy loss to shepherds’ ear.
  Where were ye, nymphs, when the remorseless deep        50
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;        55
Ah 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,        60
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 incessant care
To tend the homely, slighted, shepherd’s trade,        65
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        70
(That last infirmity of noble minds)
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,        75
And slits the thin-spun life. ‘But not the praise,’
Phœbus replied, and touch’d 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 rumour lies:        80
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.’
  O fountain Arethuse, and thou honour’d flood,        85
Smooth-sliding Mincius, crown’d with vocal reeds!
That strain I heard was of a higher mood:
But now my oat proceeds,
And listens to the herald of the sea,
That came in Neptune’s plea;        90
He ask’d the waves, and ask’d the felon winds,
What hard mishap hath doom’d this gentle swain?
And question’d every gust of rugged wings
That blows from off each beaked promontory:
They knew not of his story;        95
And sage Hippotades their answer brings,
That not a blast was from his dungeon stray’d:
The air was calm, and on the level brine
Sleek Panope with all her sisters play’d.
It was that fatal and perfidious bark,        100
Built in the eclipse, and rigg’d with curses dark,
That sunk so low that sacred head of thine.
  Next Camus, reverend sire, went footing slow,
His mantle hairy, and his bonnet sedge,
Inwrought with figures dim, and on the edge        105
Like to that sanguine flower inscribed with woe.
‘Ah! who hath reft,’ quoth he, ‘my dearest pledge?’
Last came, and last did go,
The pilot of the Galilean lake;
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain        110
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain),
He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake:
‘How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such, as for their bellies’ sake
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold!        115
Of other care they little reck’ning make,
Than how to scramble at the shearers’ feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest;
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learn’d aught else the least        120
That to the faithful herdman’s art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
And, when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,        125
But, swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread:
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said:
But that two-handed engine at the door        130
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.
  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.        135
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 enamell’d eyes,
That on the green turf suck the honey’d showers,        140
And purple all the ground with vernal flowers.
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine,
The white pink, and the pansy freak’d with jet,
The glowing violet,        145
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 daffodillies fill their cups with tears,        150
To strew the laureat hearse where Lycid lies.
For, so to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise;
Ah me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where’er thy bones are hurl’d,        155
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,        160
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, woful shepherds, weep no more,        165
For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the wat’ry floor;
So sinks the daystar in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore        170
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of Him that walk’d the waves;
Where, other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,        175
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,        180
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.        185
  Thus sang the uncouth swain to the oaks and rills,
While the still morn went out with sandals grey;
He touch’d the tender stops of various quills,
With eager thought warbling his Doric lay:
And now the sun had stretch’d out all the hills,        190
And now was dropt into the western bay:
At last he rose, and twitch’d his mantle blue:
To-morrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.
 
 
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