|Trinity College, Cambridge, MS R.3.4.|
As is made clear by the introduction and explanatory notes, “Lycidas” is an ode to a dead friend, King, and is so Milton’s mourning method. So, if this “Monody” is such an attempt to extrapolate grief, then we need to ask how effective it is in doing so. In other words, how is the lost friend elegized?
Well, the answer to that question is “over the top”. Indeed, with the repeated allusions to ancient myth, along with the numerous outpourings of mildly encoded emotions, it is hard to pick a single line. Maybe it is the melodramatic beginning (“Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more” Line 1), or the almost romantic pinning in Milton’s loss of King (“But O the heavy change, now thou art gone, / Now thou art gone, and never must return” Lines 37-8), but one starts to feel that, after a while, there was more to this friendship then merely platonic pleasure.
Now, I hardly feel ready to Queer this ode, but some tension clearly exists.
Hughes recalls Dr. Johnson’s ridicule of Milton’s depiction of him and King’s self as undergraduates. Seems that the overtly overbearing pastoral aesthetic was a bit much (116). But, could it be really simply about an aesthetic, one, yes, that is pretty cheesy, but could it not go a bit deeper, perhaps into taboo relations?
I feel that it could, but this would also be conjecture. In addition, one would also have to explain away negative responses to the poem elicited from the text’s hostility to a corrupt clergy. Still, if one could dispel such attacks, while contextualizing the sexual energy, there is clearly a powerful statement to be made, especially since Milton goes through a great many poetic hoops, extending but not limited to: ornate descriptions of flowers (Lines 140-152), all while Milton upraises his dead friend by forging a connection with his apparent talent, but early, and subsequently unknown fame, in death (Line 70-71 and its footnote and first explanatory introduction note).
In the end, “Lycidas” is a beautiful gift to a lost companion. Any reader can place themselves in Milton’s shoes and glean a fraction of the deep sorrow he clearly endured for a treasured friend; yet, it still feels very adolescent. Like a socially awkward teenager only able to express their self through an ultra-romantic gesture which holds plausible deniability. Through the elaborate gestures, metaphors, and Biblical allusions, there appears a deeper, a more desperate longing aching to be freed. As such, one imagines how “Lycidas” would have been written today, or during a time where non-heteronormative relationships were unspeakable. But, I suppose that that is a question for another time.