Lycidas

In Brief

Phrases from John Milton's pastoral elegy Lycidas (1637) sound in many parts of Ulysses. The earlier references (in Nestor, Proteus, and Scylla and Charybdis) connect to Stephen's fear of water, while later ones (in Cyclops and Eumaeus) echo the poem's setting in forests and pastures.

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Negligently "opening another book" in his classroom in Nestor, Stephen moves on to whatever lesson may be next. It turns out to be Milton's Lycidas. Echoes of this pastoral elegy recur throughout the novel.

In his long lyric poem, John Milton urges his Cambridge student 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.

In Scylla and Charybdis the "curving balustrade" along the steps in the library make Stephen think of "smoothsliding Mincius."

O fountain Arethuse, and thou honour'd flood, 
Smooth-sliding Mincius, crown'd with vocal reeds, 
That strain I heard was of a higher mood. 

The list of tree-ladies in Cyclops includes "Mrs Helen Vinegadding." In JJQ 19 (1982): 168, Fritz Senn observed that this appears to echo:

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, 
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. (37-44)

And Eumaeus twice

Bloom has seen "a superannuated old salt, evidently derelict, seated habitually near the not particularly redolent sea on the wall, staring quite obliviously at it and it at him, dreaming of fresh woods and pastures new as someone somewhere sings." "Gumley, was still to all intents and purposes wrapped in the arms of Murphy, as the adage has it, dreaming of fresh fields and pastures new."

Thus sang the uncouth swain to th'oaks and rills, 
While the still morn went out with sandals gray; 
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, 
And now was dropp'd into the western bay; 
At last he rose, and twitch'd his mantle blue: 
To-morrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.

JH 2017
Edward King by Salvatore Tagliarino. Source: www.twickenhampress.com.