A pastoral elegy is a type of poem whose meaning and significance is centered on death and the heavenly rural life. This type of poem is often written in an expressive way and in a somber tone to express disappointment in the demise of a loved one. The type of life expressed in pastoral elegies is that in a modest rural setting. On numerous occasions, shepherd and farmers always form subject of these poems. In addition, affection and death are popular themes in these poems. The main objective of this paper is to compare Milton’s Lycidas to Shelley’s Adonais especially on the way these poets use conventions of pastoral elegy. The paper will also provide a critical view of Aristotelian analysis of these pastoral elegies.
Comparison of Milton’s Lycidas and Shelley’s Adonais
Both poems were composed as pastoral elegies. Shelley’s Adonais was composed upon the demise of John Keats. Just as many admirers that Keats had, Shelley held the belief that Keats died as a result of cruel and depressing reviews of his poetry. Despite its false nature, it was widely held that Keats suffered rapture in his lungs as a result of anger from unwanted criticism. Milton’s Lycidas is also another of the same kind in memory of his friend Edward King, a talented youth with abundant intellect, who in the view of Milton, died before his time.
The titles of both poems are derived from past activities and myths of the Greeks. Milton uses the title Lycidas not just to moan his friend but also to obtain some poetic advantages. The designation Lycidas a Greek name occurred in numerous classical sources. This is aimed at providing a perfect comparison between his dead friend and a Greek singer, who was talented but, was afraid of losing to his competitor. Shelley also uses the title Adonais as a way of bringing in older traditions to make emotional complications appear simpler. The Greek legend Adonis is loved by both two women but this love makes him decide to live on earth. He is however attacked and killed by a bear. It is said that every year Greek women commemorate by mourning the death of the young prince and later rejoice on his resurrection. This myth forms the foundation of this poem since Shelley believes that just like the prince Keats, she will be immortal. This is because just as Adonis, Keats died at a younger age.
Both pastoral elegies begin with a feeling of dejection but end in optimism. In Lycidas, Milton begins by stating the reasons why he has to write his poem. When he says, “Bitter constraints and sad occasions dear…for Lycidas is dead.” This is an indication that the poet feels dejected and in sorrowful. He even calls upon everyone to mourn the death of an intelligent man who died before his time. The mourning is for a fellow poet who shall not go without mourning in singing. The sorrowful and mournful tone is also depicted in Shelley’s Adonias. “I weep for Adonias- he is dead.” The beginning of the poem shows how the overall feeling that the poet has as he begins to write. These poems however end in optimism. In Lycidas, the poet ends by stating some form of Christian consolation. This is when he requires mourners to weep no more because Lycidas will rise to heaven where he will listen to nuptial songs. His is a deity who should not be mourned but celebrated for he will do good things to others. In Shelley’s Adonais, the poet realizes that Keats takes party in the eternal which means he does not die. This realization helps in the eventual happiness and the change in the view from sadness to optimism. The personal immortalizes Keats in numerous ways. “He is made one with nature” the persona says. The poet even dares those still in mourning to join in celebrating Keats newfound immortality. Those who do not quit mourning are in danger of finding themselves in a tomb. Shelley even accepts the demise of Keats because he has become a light that shines an inspiration to the world. He will continue shinning, if like Adonis, he is not forgotten.
Other than using the traditional setting to bring out the intended message, Milton and Shelley direct the blame of the poets’ deaths on different people and entities. Shelley lays the blame on literary criticism that was published prior to Keats’. He ridicules the weaknesses of the critics as compared to those of Keats. Shelley appears to be unaware that tuberculosis was the cause of her friend’s death. In Lycidas, the poet wonders why the nymphs were unable to save his fellow poet from drowning. It is important to note that although he is aware that the nymphs are not beings that can save one from drowning, Milton still looks for an entity that he can accuse of having brought death to his friends. As the poem progresses Milton notices that if even the muse calliope was unable to save his friend then it was his fate to die.
The two poems also use the outwitting form of pastoral elegy in which a shepherd of natures is lamenting the demise of another. From a literal perspective, the main role of a pastoral elegy is to bring in a reflexive point of view in its use of ancient traditions to simplify complicated phenomena. The poet uses Adonis, his two lovers Aphrodite and Persephone, although in the elegy Aphrodite (Urania) is depicted as Adonis’ mother probably because Keats never had a lover. This myth is used to derive the intended meaning of the poem, especially in lamenting the poet’s death and the eventual joy upon the discovery on the immortality of Keats. In Lycidas, the persona recalls how he and a person named Lycidas had been good shepherds, both poets. However Lycidas dies and this is saddening to the persona. After lamenting his friend’s death, despite encouragement from Apollo, it is the speech from St. Peter about unworthy poets that lead him into apologizing on behalf of all the other shepherds. He then asks the valley to lay flowers on King’s coffin despite knowing that he drowned and his body lies at the sea bed. The realization that Lycidas is not dead but is reborn in heaven where the heavenly saints provide him with entertainment is a relief to Milton. Pastoral elegy applied in these poems provides the reader with an understanding of the process of grief which begins with a feeling of dejection and disappointment characterized by mourning as the poems progress the poet realizes that it is pointless to mourn as the dead are alive in heaven watching over the living.
Aristotelian Analysis of Pastoral Elegies
For an elegy to qualify as a tragedy in Aristotelian perspective, it must be an imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude in language, in form of action in its endeavors to realize its katharsis (cleansing) of tragic emotions and fear. From an Aristotelian perspective, these poems qualify as tragedies. Both poems have tragic heroes of great philosophical and literary relevance. Lycidas derives its story from that of Lycidas a great poet and singer who died before his time. Just like Lycidas, his friend King was a great poet who died before he could acquire fame from his poetic work. When he says, “Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime.” This is also the case Shelley’s Adonais. The poet borrows from the Greek mythology of Adonis son of Zeus who dies when on earth after an attack by a boar. The fear of death leads to numerous dramatic performances which from Aristotelian perspective is a characteristic of a tragedy. There is however a turn of events when the protagonists in these poems emerge as winners despite their physical death.
The plots of the poems appear as whole since they have a start, middle and a completion. Both poems begin with the death. In Lycidas, the poem begins with the information on the death of Lycidas who dies before his time. It is a poem in memory of a fellow poet. In Shelley’s Adonais, the persona begins by calling people to mourn the death of a good friend Adonais. In the middle, there poems are characterized by mourning and blames on who caused the deaths of the good friends. In Lycidas, the persona questions the nymphs and muses on their role in Lycidas’ death. He also desires to know the one who was on watch when Lycidas died. In Shelley’s Adonais, the blame is on the critics whose objections led to the death of Adonais. The persona beckons mourners and recognizes that even nature mourns Adonais as the wind and oceans stop to pay tribute to the fallen hero. The climax is when there is an unexpected alteration in the mood of the poem. In Lycidas, the persona comes to a realization that his acquaintance is not dead but is in heaven. He tells other shepherds that Lycidas is in a place where he “hears the unexpressive nuptial song.” The shepherds should weep no more. The climax and end of Shelley’s Adonais is when there is a sudden change in the tone of the poem when the persona realizes that his friend is in heaven safe from his enemies. In the end the persona concedes to the passing of his friend with the hope that Adonais’ light continues to guide her for the rest of her life.
Aristotelian of the pastoral elegies by Milton and Shelley as tragedies provides an essential way through which these poems can be understood. The introduction of tragic heroes such as Lycidas and Adonis provides a proper understanding to the poem since it enables the reader to find a perfect relationship between these heroes and the person for whom the poem was written. Milton wrote the poem Lycidas in reminiscence of his friend Edward King. Shelley wrote his in memory of his friend John Keats. Just like King, Lycidas died at an early age before he could enjoy the fruits of his success. The emotional language used in these poems suggests that the poet was a close friend to the deceased friend. The tragic death of Adonis son of Zeus for instance brings out sorrow and despair from his mother who calls upon death to take her away just as it took her son. The climax characterized by a sudden change in the tone of the poems helps in recognizing that the tragic hero, though dead, emerges as the victor at the end.
Percy Shelley’s Adonais and John Milton’s Lycidas are poems written in memory of their friends and fellow poets John Keats and Edward King respectively. The two poems fall in the classification of pastoral elegies. To be precise, these poems are elegies since they were written to mourn the death of someone. The widespread depiction of the shepherd subjects and descriptions makes the poems pastoral. These poems can also qualify as tragedies from an Aristotelian perspective. This is because they contain imitations of actions with serious consequences. The presence of tragic heroes drawn from ancient Greece, Lycidas and Adonis, create a point of comparison and understanding of the essence of the deceased friends to the poets. These heroes though defeated at the beginning emerge victories at the end. The plot of the poems are single and complex since they contain reversals, news that was at first sad is revealed as good in the end, and recognition where there is a change from ignorance to awareness.