Monday, June 12, 2017

Evans Response (Milton Journal)

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The final ten lines of “Lycidas” speak of two events: (1) of a disaster—natural or otherwise—which befalls a rustic hermit, and (2) the shift in the speaker’s voice from first to third person; this is done while the Pastoral elegy (canzone) shifts to Romantic Epic (ottava rima).

            Narratively, this final section talks of a new days rising: “Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new” (Line 193). This comes after a great debacle, or more accurately, trial. “To all that wander in that perilous flood” (Line 185), speaks of intense hardship or contemplation, likely of a religious nature. So we immediately see the connection between the trial, whatever that trial is, and the beginning of a new day. Since this is a message wrapped up in Milton’s monody and mourning for King, this shift in rhyme and meaning comes as a shock.

            Or, it at least is read as a shock to Martin Evans.

            Evans’s thesis is that there is an “intense personal emotion lying just beneath the marmoreal formality of the surface” (Danielson 41), which acts as a dialog with the traditional elements of the pastoral elegy, and is something Milton uses to come to terms with his own shifting life. Evans sees the shift in narration as “one of the most extraordinary moments in English poetry” (50), since it subverts readers expectations. In Evans views, this subversion is related to Milton revealing himself as this new speaker; to Evans, this moment is akin to someone’s dream-self materializing into their real self (52). Allegedly, it was Milton’s method to coming to terms with the poet’s role in society (that they may not have the ability to effect change) but also himself at an individual, almost existential level (his subsequent travels, his entrance into politics, and marriage).

            As a concept, it is very intriguing. To use a pop culture reference, the idea that Milton is interested in gradually revealing his own mortality—the dream self, becoming the real self—is almost like The Matrix or Inception: there is this kernel of truth gradually becoming realized by dispelling mythology of one kind and replacing it with another (to use Adorno-esque philosophy). If Milton did honestly intend for the poem to be read that way, then it introduces a whole new perspective on how we read (we could not, for instance, take for granted everything the first speaker says), and limits any interpretation which seeks to dismiss the apparent narratological gaps. How much such a perspective would add, though, behind bolstering some otherwise poetically confusing elements, is not known, though. After all, it takes more than a single audacious reading to prove a point.

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