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by John Milton

Lines 76-84 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 76-77

[…] But not the praise,
Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling ears;

  • Enter Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, music, and poetry, among all kinds of other things (the Greek gods were major multitaskers). In these lines, he's called by his Roman name, Phoebus.
  • Phoebus tells the speaker that while the "blind Fury" does destroy human life, she doesn't destroy all the praise we get for our achievements (especially the poetic ones, right?).
  • He says this while touching the speaker on the ears. What's up with that, you ask? Well, it's an allusion to Virgil's Eclogues, in which the speaker's ears are touched as well. It's a form of admonishment, or scolding. Essentially, Phoebus is telling our hotheaded speaker to cool his jets.

Lines 78-80

Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistening foil
Set off to the world, nor in broad rumour lies,

  • Phoebus describes Fame as something that cannot be found in this mortal world ("soil"), and especially not in one's reputation or "rumour."
  • Wait. What? Essentially, Phoebus is telling our guy that fame isn't about how many people on earth know and respect you.
  • "Foil" here refers to a piece of silver or gold placed under a precious stone to enhance its luster (presumably for display purposes). In this sense, a foil creates an illusion, the same way that looking for fame on earth does.
  • We might think of these lines as a kind of negative metaphor. Fame is not a plant, and it's not a foil. Awesome. Wait. What is it, then?

Lines 81-84

But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in heaven expect thy meed.

  • Phoebus tells the speaker that fame actually "lives" and grows, or "spreads" aloft as a result of Jove's decisions. Jove has the final word, as he "pronounces lastly on each deed."
  • Here, fame is metaphorically compared to a tree or plant that grows in heaven, provided Jove allows it to, of course.
  • Remember the word "meed" from line 14? Here it means about the same thing: a fitting reward. The idea here is that Jove will give us however much fame in heaven we deserve.

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