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Lycidas: Poetry and Death

Lycidas: Poetry and Death

Living in a period of important religious and cultural flux, John Milton’s poetry reflects the many influences he found both in history and in the contemporary world. With a vast knowledge of literature from the classical world of Greek and Roman culture, Milton often looked back to more ancient times as a means of enriching his works. At other times, however, he relies on his strong Christian beliefs for creating spiritually compelling themes and deeply religious imagery. Despite the seemingly conflicting nature of these two polarized sources of inspiration, Milton somehow found a way of bridging the gap between a pagan and a Christian world, often weaving them together into one overpowering story. The pastoral elegy Lycidas, written after the death of a fellow student at Cambridge, exemplifies this mastery over ancient and contemporary traditions in its transition from a pagan to a Christian context. Opening the poem in a setting rich with mythological figures and scenery, then deliberately moving into a distinctly Christian setting, Milton touches upon two personally relevant issues: poetry and Christian redemption. In this way, Lycidas both addresses the subject of being a poet in a life doomed by death and at the same time shows the triumphant glory of a Christian life, one in which even the demise of the poet himself holds brighter promises of eternal heavenly joy.

Confronted with the drowning of contemporary Cambridge student and fellow poet Edward King in 1637, John Milton faced the daunting subject of making sense of an existence that inevitably culminates in the ultimate destruction of human life. As M. H. Abrams states in his prefatory notes to Lycidas, Milton took part…

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…hes, David. “A Study of Literature.” Milton’s Lycidas: The Tradition and the Poem. Ed. C. A. Patrides. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1983. 92-110.

Hanford, James H. “The Pastoral Elegy and Milton’s Lycidas.” Milton’s Lycidas: The Tradition and the Poem. Ed. C. A. Patrides. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1983. 31-59.

MacCaffrey, Isabel G. “Lycidas: The Poet in a Landscape.” Milton’s Lycidas: The Tradition and the Poem. Ed. C. A. Patrides. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1983. 246-66.

Milton, John. “Lycidas.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams. 6th ed. New York: W. W. Norton

Lockean Philosophy in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

An Exploration of Lockean Philosophy in Gulliver’s Travels

Ricardo Quintana asserts in his study Two Augustans that even “though Swift as a traditional philosophical realist dismissed Lockian empiricism with impatience, he recognized in Lockian political theory an enforcement of his own convictions” (76). It may be argued, however, than when two contemporary authors, such as Locke and Swift, are shaped within the same matrix of cultural forces and events, they reveal through their respective works a similar ideology. The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to explore the parallels between Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, using textual evidence and literary criticism; and second, to compare the methods prescribed by Locke and Swift for education, taking into account some cultural views in the eighteenth-century.

The first half of the eighteenth-century, sometimes referred to as the “Age of Reason,” marked a “new era in parent-child relations, based upon a confluence of political and religious currents” that radically altered the accepted social attitudes towards children (Braverman 37). The revision of the late seventeenth-century political and cultural perspective gave rise to a new philosophy that regarded children as more-or-less inherently good and virtuous. This milder view differed from earlier beliefs that portrayed children as fallen creatures, who embodied original sin derived from Adam and Eve’s Fall. Commenting on Locke’s Thoughts, Lawrence Stone observes the following in his extensive study The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800:

[Locke’s] book coincided with the overthrow of Divine Right Monarchy, the rejection of the doctrine of P…

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…versity of California Press, 1968.

Ezell, Margaret J. M. “John Locke’s Images of Childhood: Early Eighteenth Century Response to Some Thoughts Concerning Education.” Eighteenth-Century Studies. Winter. 1983: 139-55.

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government, The Works of John Locke. Vol. 5. London: Thomas Teggs et al., 1823.

Locke, John. Some Thoughts Concerning Education, The Works of John Locke. Vol. 9. London: Thomas Teggs et al., 1823.

Quintana, Ricardo. Two Augustans: John Locke and Jonathan Swift. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

Setten, Henk van. “Some Thoughts Concerning Education by John Locke, 1693.”The History of Education Site. 1-2 pp. Online. Internet. 23 Sept. 1999. Available:

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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