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by John Milton

Lycidas Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. The great literary critic Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) once criticized Milton's poem by saying, "where there is leisure for fiction there is little grief." By that, he meant that writing a poem is no way to grieve a friend. A person should be busy feeling bad, rather than dabbling in pen and ink. Do you think someone who writes a story or poem after the death of a friend is being insincere? Or could that grief feed his creativity somehow and make him more productive as a writer?
  2. Based on what you have read in the poem, do you think Milton cares more about himself and his own poetic career than Lycidas/King's death? In other words, is he using the death of his friend King as a way to promote his own poetry?
  3. What's with all the classical allusions? Do you think "Lycidas" goes over the top when it comes to them? Why does Milton include them in the first place? Is he deliberately trying to make our lives difficult? Is he trying to prove that he can drop verse with the best of them?
  4. What do you make of Phoebus' entrance in the poem? Why have the god talk at all?
  5. Why does Saint Peter come into the poem? And what's his speech about good-for-nothing shepherds all about?
  6. A critic once referred to "Lycidas" as one of the most perfect poems. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  7. What's the deal with death in this poem? Is the speaker afraid of it? Saddened by it?
  8. Knowing that Milton added his preface in prose to the poem in 1645, many years after it was published, what effect does it have on your reading of the poem? Do you think Milton meant the poem to be about religious issues in England all along, or is he just foisting that on the poem later, when it suits the times?

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