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Bodies of Water

Symbol Analysis

Milton's best bud Edward King (Lycidas) drowned at sea, so it's no wonder that water plays such a big role in this poem. A boatload of bodies of water, both real and mythological, are mentioned. Sometimes the speaker refers to them for inspiration, or because he wants his readers to make a connection to something with which that particular body of water is associated. At other times, he just wants to remind his readers that his close friend met a tragic end at the hands of the sea.

  • Lines 85-86: The speaker addresses the "fountain Arethuse" and "smooth-sliding Mincius." The Arethuse is a fountain near the city of Otygia, on the island of Sicily. The Mincius is a river ("flood") in northern Italy. This was Virgil's native river, and in the Eclogues, he comments on the "reeds" near it. Arethuse is a symbol of Greek pastoral, whereas the Mincius symbolizes Roman pastoral. Readers who are clued in to these associations will understand the wink and the nod. For readers who aren't clued in, well, good thing you've got Shmoop.
  • Line 98: Hippotades (Aeolus, god of the winds) notes that the sea ("brine") was calm ("level") when Lycidas died. In other words, his winds weren't responsible for the death, and neither was the sea.
  • Lines 103-106: The River Cam (Camus) appears, mourning Lycidas. The river Cam is associated with Cambridge University. In fact, you might say that the river is actually standing in for the university here, which would make it an example of metonymy.
  • Line 109: The phrase "pilot of the Galilean lake" is used to describe St. Peter. Galilea is an area in present-day northern Israel where Jesus spent a lot of time.
  • Lines 132-133: The speaker appeals to Alpheus, a famous river and god in Greek mythology.
  • Lines 154-158: The speaker mentions how the "shores, and sounding seas" have washed Lycidas' body far away. It is possible, he tells us, that Lycidas' bones are buried deep beneath the ocean, even beyond the Hebrides, which were islands off the coast of Scotland.
  • Line 174: The speaker describes the streams of heaven or paradise. These contrast with other bodies of water in the poem because they are full of nectar. Fancy a glass?

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