Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
But O! the heavy change now thou art gone,
Now thou art gone and never must return!
- All right, pal, the time for daydreaming is over.
- He has undergone a "heavy change" because Lycidas has passed away. No more frolicking on the lawn, no more boogieing with the satyrs. It's time to face a very different kind of music.
- Note the repetition of "now thou art gone." Our speaker can't seem to get over the loss of his friend. He even tops it off with an exclamation mark. Now that's some serious business.
Thee, Shepherd, thee the woods, and desert caves,
With wild thyme and the gadding vine o'ergrown,
And all their echoes mourn.
- Another apostrophe. Here, our speaker talks to Lycidas directly. The problem is, the dude is dead, so he's not actually around to hear our speaker.
- In talking to Lycidas, he tells him just how much his death has affected the natural world.
- Even the caves (which are overgrown with "wild thyme" and "gadding vine") and the woods mourn his death. "Gadding" means "wandering" or "roving."
- You may have noticed that the structure of these lines is a wee bit tricky. The verb ("mourn") comes in the last line, but its object ("thee," referring to the shepherd Lycidas) is in the first. In between the object and its verb comes the description of the caves ("o'ergrown" with "wild thyme" etc.).
- These lines are also an example of personification. The speaker is giving non-human things, like caves and woods, human qualities – in this case, emotions.
The willows, and the hazel copses green,
Shall now no more be seen
Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.
- It's not just the caves and woods that are bummed out about Lycidas' death. The willows and the hazel trees are down in the dumps, too.
- How do we know those trees are sad? Well, they aren't shaking their tail feathers… oops, we mean "leaves" to the rhythms of Lycidas' righteous tunes, or "lays."
- A "lay" is a short poem or narrative meant to be sung; usually, it is a synonym for poetry.
As killing as the canker to the rose,
Or taint-worm to the weanling herds that graze,
Or frost to flowers, that their gay wardrobe wear,
When first the white-thorn blows;
Such, Lycidas, thy loss to shepherd's ear.
- Yikes. We've got a very complex sentence here. Basically, we can think of these lines as a bunch of similes strung together.
- Something is "as killing as the canker to the rose." A canker is a disease that infests rose plants. Uh oh.
- That same something is like a "taint-worm to the weanling herds." A "taint-worm" is an intestinal worm that kills young (or "weanling") calves. Pause for "ew"s.
- And finally, that same something is as deadly as frost is to blooming (as in, wearing their "gay wardrobe") flowers.
- What's that something? Lycidas' death. Just in case you were still in the dark: Lycidas' death was very very bad to our speaker. Very bad.
- This sequence of lines is a simile, except instead of saying "Lycidas' death was like…" the speaker inverts the order.