Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Now, Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more;
Henceforth thou art the genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood.
- Here, our speaker shifts from addressing his fellow weepy shepherds to talking to Lycidas directly in another apostrophe. The speaker talks to Lycidas again, noting that the shepherds no longer weep for him and that he is now the "genius of the shore." That means that dear old Lycidas will protect all the sailors on the dangerous ocean, or "perilous flood."
- In this case, "genius" doesn't mean someone really smart, but rather a protective deity or spirit, often associated with a particular place. Lycidas has become this spirit, and his particular place is the ocean, where he is now buried.
- "Recompense" here means "reward." The implication is that becoming a "genius" is Lycidas' reward for dying. Hey, at least the guy got something out of it.
Thus sang the uncouth swain to th' oaks and rills,
While the still morn went out with sandals grey;
He touched the tender stops of various quills,
With eager thought warbling his Doric lay:
- Hold on a minute. Milton, do you mean to tell us that this whole poem has been a quoted speech all along? Way to spring that one on us, buddy.
- That's right, the "uncouth," or unknown "swain," or shepherd has been singing this whole poem to the oak trees and streams ("rills") around him. Some other guy has just been reporting that speech to us. Now that's a twist.
- The swain sang this song while the morning was giving way to the day; he was playing some kind of handmade pipe ("touched the tender stops of various quills") while singing his rustic, pastoral song ("Doric lay").
- "Doric" refers to a dialect of ancient Greek used by the famous pastoral poets Theocritus, Moschus, and Bion.
And now the sun had stretched out all the hills,
And now was dropped into the western bay.
At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue:
Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.
- The sun has started to set, appearing to sink into the ocean in the west. The swain gets up, touches his "mantle," or garment, and starts off for new adventures – "fresh woods, and pastures new."
- The phrase "stretched out all the hills" presumably means that the setting sun has lengthened the shadows on the hills, creating an image of a lovely, peaceful evening.
- The poem finishes off on a hopeful note. We think the last line of the poem would be a great way to end all your emails.