Milton Now pp 29-50 | Cite as

“Shipwreck is everywhere”: Lycidas and the Problems of the Secular

  • Sharon Achinstein
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


When Milton added the headnote to Lycidas in the published edition of his poems in 1645, he firmly indicated that the poem was a prophecy: “and by occasion foretells the ruin of our corrupted Clergy then in their height.”1 Certainly, this addition does ratify the allegorical, even typological reading of the elegy as the Pilot’s harangue emerges as the true voice of the poem, railing against the “Blind mouths!”—the Laudian clergy. In what follows, it is suggested that with his earlier monody, that published with its brothers in the Cambridge volume of 1638, Milton offered no certainty about such a perspective. Indeed, the headnote effectively wipes away tensions existing in the 1638 poem; that is, it voids the central ethical questions about divine justice offered by the King memorial volume, and has them eased by the later interpretation that gives that the poem was a true foretelling, and therefore Lycidas a work whose meaning was to be found ultimately within a history of providential unfolding and the coming of right. In his 1638 Lycidas, Milton was experimenting with a prophetic voice in his writing, to be sure, as he had done formerly in the Nativity Ode and in the Lady’s speech in A Maske. Retrieving Milton’s prophetic mode has led to recent political contextualisation over his early religious and political affiliations, and given validity to his critical placement in a line of Spenserian poets, nationalist, protestant, republican.2


Liquid Marble Early Modern Period Paradise Lost Poetic Form Religious Choice 
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© Catharine Gray and Erin Murphy 2014

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  • Sharon Achinstein

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