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Landy, M. (1973). Language and Mourning in “Lycidas”. Am. Imago, 30(3):294-312.

(1973). American Imago, 30(3):294-312

Language and Mourning in “Lycidas”

Marcia Landy, Ph.D.

In “Lycidas,” even more than in the rest of his poetry, Milton is acutely aware of the process of language and self-definition. The poem's movement toward new awareness is much more than affirmation of “the power beyond Justice.” It is the poet's experience of language—and particularly poetic language—which enables him to affirm the power and justice of God. He explores language in relation to human institutions, social roles and religious beliefs. The act of writing the poem thus becomes an affirmative experience of the personal and social organizing power of language and poetry, simultaneously an affirmation of the sanctity and meaning of life, and of Milton's life in particular. The death of Edward King presented a major crisis to the poet. Not only was his friend lost, but the mode of his loss—the arbitrariness of the death and the fact of the unrecovered body—created serious challenges to ideas of providence which are a central preoccupation in all of Milton's poetry. For the poet, who had in mind the creation of epic poetry, this crisis threatened his beliefs in order, purpose, and justice. Through the enactment of the mourning process, the poem, his “urn,” Milton was able to work through his unresolved mourning by recalling the body, conjuring up the past, confronting his own guilt about surviving, differentiating himself from his friend, following the stages of a “funeral,” with hearse, flowers, mourners, burial and assuring himself that his friend was resurrected.

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