Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where'er thy bones are hurled,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit'st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold;
Look homeward angel now, and melt with ruth.
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
- In these tricky lines, the speaker elaborates on the fact that Lycidas' body is missing. This is the beginning of a long and slightly complicated sentence. Don't worry, Shmoopers, we'll break it down for you.
- In fact, we'll go ahead and paraphrase it: "While the seas and shores wash your body far away, wherever your bones are hurled, whether that be beyond the stormy Hebrides, where you might be underneath the ocean and visiting a realm of sea monsters; or whether, despite our tearful prayers, you're sleeping by the fable of Bellerus, from where one can see Namancos and Bayona's hold, I want you, angel, to look homewards and feel sad. And dolphins, convey Lycidas' body safely home."
- Phew! Even with our improvised modern English translation, there are still a few places to get tripped up.
- First, the Hebrides are a group of islands off the coast of Scotland. "Whelming" means engulfing, and "Moist vows" means tearful prayers.
- "Bellerus" is a hero that Milton invented in order to explain the word Bellerium, a Latin word meaning land's end. In other words, the speaker is saying to Lycidas, "whether you're stuck beneath the ocean or resting at land's end, please look homewards."
- The "great vision of the guarded mount" refers to a story about how some monks reportedly saw a vision of St. Michael on St. Michael's Mount, an island off the southwest coast of England.
- "Vision" also means "one's line of sight" from the top of St. Michael's Mount.
- So, at lands end, or St. Michael's Mount, the line of sight stretches toward Namancos and Bayona's hold. "Namancos" is an old name for a region in northwestern Spain, and "Bayona's hold" refers to an old fortress town in western Spain.
- Both of these places are meant to evoke the threat of Spanish Catholicism; the speaker wants Lycidas to look homeward to England, not Catholic Spain.
- The "angel" likely refers to Lycidas, who appears to being crying with grief, or "ruth."
- Finally, the speaker asks dolphins to help Lycidas, the hapless or "unlucky" youth, to drift along. Sailors often thought the sight of dolphins was a good omen.