Lycidas

In Brief

Negligently "opening another book" in the classroom, Stephen moves on to whatever lesson may be next. It is the pastoral elegy Lycidas (1638), by John Milton.

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In this long lyric, John Milton urges his Cambridge peers not to bemoan the drowning of their classmate Edward King: "Weep no more, woful shepherds, weep no more / For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead, / Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor." King is not dead because he has been saved "Through the dear might of Him that walked the waves": Jesus Christ, who walked on the waters in Matthew 14 to save his fisherman disciples.

As Talbot goes on reading Stephen veers into his own thoughts, just as he did while putting the boys through their Pyrrhus paces. The subject of his meditation now is Christ: "Here also over these craven hearts his shadow lies and on the scoffer's heart and lips and on mine. It lies upon their eager faces who offered him a coin of the tribute. . . . A long look from dark eyes." Christ's dark eyes return a bit later in the persons of two non-Christian philosophers: "Averroes and Moses Maimonides, dark men in mien and movement, flashing in their mocking mirrors the obscure soul of the world, a darkness shining in brightness which brightness could not comprehend." The three wise men occupy a metaphysical darkness, invisible within the bustling world of craven hearts and eager faces. As with Pyrrhus, then, Stephen continues to look for the Spirit within the seemingly mindless futility of everyday reality.

The passage from Lycidas also offers another drowning victim to complement the ones mentioned in Telemachus: the men saved by Mulligan, and a man who has been dead for nine days and is expected to surface soon. In Proteus Stephen thinks of the recovery of this dead body: "There he is. Hook it quick. Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor. We have him. Easy now." He thinks of Shakespeare's The Tempest in the same paragraph, recalling the song in which Ariel offers spiritual consolation to Ferdinand for the drowning death of his father.

JH 2012
Edward King by Salvatore Tagliarino. Source: www.twickenhampress.com.