Milton and Pope

  • A. J. Gilbert


We can best examine the influence of Ramistic logic on John Milton (1608–74) and Alexander Pope (1688–1744) by comparing two famous elegies, Milton’s Lycidas (1638) and Pope’s Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady (1717). Milton’s poem is an example of strict classical decorum; in a sequence of single contexts in middle and plain style he laments the loss of his friend drowned in the Irish sea. The poem is written in a similar form to Spenser’s Epithalamion; a series of complex stanzas articulate the themes of loss and consolation, with a satiric aside on those who could have been better lost in place of his friend. Milton’s attitude to the pastoral conventions he uses is modified and controlled by the reality of his grief, and this realism in the work dominates the traditional styles. Unlike Spenser, Milton adopts a middle style form for most of the pastoral, and avoids Chaucerian archaism. Milton exploits the traditional images of grief and loss by implying their inadequacy, while at the same time rendering them in the most delicate and pure form. It is important also to notice the role of syntax in this work; Milton creates a powerful surging rhythm to suggest strong feeling behind the conventional gestures of mourning. These devices of style in diction and syntax make the poem profoundly ambiguous in its use of the conventions, and many critics have described it as a mannerist work in its subjective and disturbed feeling.1


Conceptual Accuracy Single Context Paradise Lost Traditional Style Pastoral Convention 
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  1. 1.
    R. Daniells, Milton, Mannerism, and Baroque, Toronto, 1963Google Scholar
  2. W. Sypher, Four Stages of Renaissance Style, New York, 1955.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    F. T. Prince, The Italian Element in Milton’s Verse, Oxford, 1954.Google Scholar

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© A. J. Gilbert 1979

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  • A. J. Gilbert

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