Michael Ray De Los Angeles Menjivar
15 April 2013
Table of Contents
- En El Norte, the Literary Journey of the Poetic Mind: A Reflective Narrative.
- The Lycidas Research Project (Reflective Essay)
- Toyon Publications. (Publishing Samples)
c. Mon Amour
d. Toyon Promotional Layouts
- Remor∫le∫s deep, histories lost and meanings academically constructed: A Linguistic approach to Milton’s “Lycidas” (Research and Analysis)
- En El Norte (Tringual writing sample)
En El Norte, the Literary Journey of the Poetic Mind: A Reflective Narrative.
It is spring 2013, exactly one day after the spring equinox, and I am back home in southern California—Lake View Terrace to be exact, a suburb within Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. It has been nearly two years since I transferred to Humboldt State University to further my studies in English literature. To date, I have explored the words of Sappho, Gwendolyn Brooks, John Milton, Virginia Woolf, Mary Hunter Austin, Octavia Butler, Paulo Friere, Manuel Altolaguirre, Gary Snyder, Alison Bechtel, Langston Hughes, and John Agard; I have read sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, pantones, novels, novellas, graphic novels, short stories, critical essays—on queer theory, feminism (including eco-feminism), post-colonialism, Marxism, post-structuralism, and modernism—in addition I have read through anthologies, concordances, author lexicons, dictionaries, achieves and databases (digital and physical) to further my literary comprehension. On my literary journey I have annotated, synthesized, critiqued and quoted the various texts that I have read.
Before transferring to Humboldt State University I attended several community colleges in southern California; one of the colleges was Pierce community college. While completing my survey of British literature at Pierce I read the epic poem “Paradise Lost” written by John Milton. When I transferred to Humboldt State University, located in the northwestern tip of California (or simply el Norte), Professor Michael Eldridge reintroduced me to the canonical author and his pastoral elegiac poem “Lycidas.” During professor Eldridge’s facilitation of the course “Introduction to the Major” I responded to several informal writing assignments, wrote an exploratory essay and contributed to the “Lycidas Research Project”—an infamously research assignment that is known amongst English major undergraduates. While Introduction to the Major was a course that highlighted various literary tools, it was during the construction of the Lycidas Project that I wove analytical and critical literary research methods into my essay—the research completed during this project later served as a foundational reference point for my later essay “Remor∫le∫s Deep, Histories Lost and Meanings Academically Constructed: A Linguistic Approach to Milton’s ‘Lycidas’” the final essay written for Professor Doty’s History of the English Language.
During the fall semester of 2012 I enrolled in Professor Kathleen Doty’s literature course “History of the English Language” (H.E.L.). In the course I discussed both ancient and modern texts; “Beowulf,” Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and Seth Leerer’s Inventing English: A Portable History of the English Language were the core texts read. In addition, Professor Doty’s lectures contextualized the social, political and cultural histories embedded within the English Language—including Latin, Roman, Germanic and French influences on written and spoken English. It was in this class that I had the opportunity and privilege to revisit the literary works of author John Milton, an author that as I mentioned, was introduced to me earlier in my academic career.
Multiple close readings of John Milton’s pastoral Elegy “Lycidas” were involved in the writing of my essay “Remor∫le∫s Deep.” Through my observations I was able to surmise that standardizations within the written English language were exemplified by Milton’s use of contractions and pronouns. Milton’s usage of the formal and informal second person pronouns (thou and you), the repetition of contracted words and varied affixes (“-d,” “th’,” “-‘ning,” “O’,” and “st”) were textual elements that I cited to strengthen my position regarding my observations (Remor∫le∫s 4). In this essay I highlighted the ways in which Milton’s poem conformed to the pastoral elegiac form, including his lament for the departed; however, I neglected to mention that the standardization of the written word (including the system of affixes) was reflective of the rise of literacy within England. Furthermore, Milton’s poem, which incorporates historical and geographic references, highlights how the phonology and graphology of English language had shifted over the centuries.
While constructing the essay “Remor∫le∫s Deep” I referred to my notes that I had compiled during the “Lycidas Project”—the ability to reference my own notes was useful on several levels. For instance, my annotated works cited page that I had written for the “Lycidas Project” allowed me to see what research I had already completed. While reviewing my notes I was able to recall that Milton’s poem was also read as a “social critique of the church” and that the poem’s departure from the “natural world” of “flowers and animals” was a deviation from the pastoral elegiac form (Remor∫le∫s 2). Furthermore, the “Lycidas Project” served as a reference point because the digital and print resources that I used to compose the project provided me with a well-rounded introduction to the poem.
On the annotated works cited page, sources like the Dartmouth University’s John Milton Reading Room, and authors such as Northrop Frye were resources that provided overviews of the poem (Lycidas Project 5). Although I did not make use of either text in my essay “Remor∫ele∫s Deep,” the annotated works cited page of the Lycidas Project reminded me that I was not starting with a blank slate. I was already familiar with certain aspects of Milton’s poem and that I knew how to conduct research on unfamiliar and foreign topics. Furthermore, I learned that my literary toolbox was still expanding and that different lenses and approaches are applicable at varying times.
My ability to evaluate and filter through information (a skill that has been sharpened, fine-tuned, and challenged over the course of my academic career) was an invaluable asset during my time as an editor for the Toyon Literary Journal, the annual journal of Humboldt State University’s English Department. As a contributing editor for the 2012 edition and the poetry division editor for the 2013 edition, my goal was the same: to produce a quality journal that publishes new and emerging authors. During the creation of the journal, with the guidance of Professor Corey Lewis, I acquired knowledge about desktop publishing, organized editor working groups, called for submissions—throughout the process cataloging, reviewing and evaluating the texts and media submitted.
As the poetry division editor for the 2013 edition, I facilitated discussions during the poetry submissions review process. Editors critiqued traditional poems (such as villanelles, haikus, ballads, and sonnets) and as well as poetry that did not conform to traditional poetic structures but presented thematic elements, social relevancy, and the locality of culturally diverse themes. In short we were in search of poems that we could unpack and discuss with multiple critical lenses or as Professor Lewis suggested we were on the lookout for poems with “the force”—those of us that were familiar with George Lucas’ Star Wars laughed heartily at the thought. Poems with “the force” are the poems that our editors felt that they could nominate for the Pushcart Prize, a national award and anthology that features the published literature from all across the United States.
My experience as an editor of The Toyon brought into my awareness the various details that are involved in working within the field of publishing; I am proficient with the desktop publishing software Adobe InDesign, I can navigate through digital social networks, and I locate websites related to literary publishing, such as Poetryfoundation.Org. Furthermore, my participation in the Toyon’s promotional aspects—poster and handbill layouts, and video production—was included on the Toyon’s blog.
As a contributing editor of the journal I discovered the vast quantity of submissions that a local publisher can receive. During the 2013 edition of The Toyon over five hundred submissions (in the genres of poetry, art, creative nonfiction, fiction and critical essays), were received. In addition to processing a plethora of submissions, our editing teams reviewed and completed the layout of the journal ahead of schedule. As I reflect on my experience as an editor of the Toyon Literary Journal, (after reviewing hundreds of submissions within the genres of art and poetry), I see that I have acquired publishing experience, and as a result I have become conscious of submission guidelines that different journals (newspapers, or online venues) requires. Today, during my publication venue searches I closely read a venue’s featured articles and website. In the process, I have learned how to identify my audience and how to maintain versatility within my writing, photography, and essays so that I may increase the likelihood of publication.
While three of my photographs (“Edification,” “Mon Amour,” and “Childhood”) were published in the Toyon’s 2012 edition, none of my photographs, paintings or poetry were included in the 2013 edition. Despite the rejection, I have continued to publish throughout my time at Humboldt State University, and, as a result of my persistence, my photography, paintings and poems have been published in other venues. These venues include The Women’s Resource Center’s biannual magazine “The Matrix,” the Asian Pacific Islander American Student Alliance’s (A.P.A.S.A) spring zine, and the Tia Chucha’s press anthology Rushing Waters Rising Dreams: How the Arts are Transforming a community—which was edited by Chicano author Luis J. Rodriguez. My experience as an author and editor has shown me that rejections occur and that they too are part of the publishing process but are by no means the end of the world.
Today, as spring is now in bloom, I am reviewing my poem “En El Norte;” a poem that was composed in Lilianet Brintrup’s Contemporary Spanish Poetry course. I wrote the poem as part of an exercise that was meant to emulate a surrealist sense of displacement. The poem is twenty-five versos (lines), with five estrofas (stanzas) and utilizes influences from surrealist artist Salvador Dali, poets such as Manuel Altolaguirre; in addition to literary elements established by authors from El Generacion del 27 (The Generation of 27)—oh, and the poem is trilingual as well, weaving together Latin, Español (or Spanish) and English. I have spent the last several weeks revising other essays and researching publication venues and returned now to this poem that was written on the cusp of spring. My attempt to weave together the literary styles of authors that I had read about sent me scurrying through my notebooks and in the process one name reappeared, John Milton.
While reading through John Milton’s literature for the essay “Remor∫le∫s Deep,” as winter was still announcing its arrival, I discovered his poem “Epitaphium” (one of several poems that Milton wrote exclusively in Latin). It was with Milton (and Mary Hunter Austin’s collection of stories The Land of Little Rain) in mind that I chose to write a poem about trees. Like Austin and Milton, I chose to demonstrate my knowledge of multiple languages; the result was that in my poem each tree was described in Español, named in Latin and had its common name echoed in English. Just as Milton’s poem “Lycidas” wove the English, Latin and French social, textual and linguistic narratives together through the evocation of “flocks” “Nymphs,” and “Shepards” (Remor∫ele∫s), I constructed a poem that reflected the intersection of the multiple narratives that exist within my life—establishing my own voice in the process.
The third stanza of the poem “En El Norte” describes a redwood tree; it is in this stanza that I utilize a surrealist approach. The stanza states “Busque por un arbol/ Encontre un Sempervirens de secoya; un “redwood”/ El tronco recto como un pistola, / como un canon/ como el horizonte” (12-16). While the description of the redwood parallels the tree to “un pistol” (a gun), “un cannon” (a cannon), and “el horizonte” (the horizon), the four objects mentioned have no relation to each other; one does not think of a firearm when asked about redwood trees. In connecting the image of the tree to other objects and then restating the tree’s name in English and Latin I had carved out my own surrealist poet approach. My attempt to create a sense of displacement was connected to the usage of language and I used my research skills to find the scientific names of each tree that I wanted to mention within my poem.
As a literary exercise the poem reminded me to pay attention to my editing, partly because I had to recall the various accent marks that are used within Spanish literature. In addition, I also had the opportunity to explore other rimas, metaforas y aliteraciones (rhymes, metaphors and alliterations) that are not available in English. The repticion (repetition) of the phrase “busqué para un arbol” (I searched for a tree) is the refrain that I utilize to establish a sense of place and familiarity—the phrase is repeated in all but the final stanza. In short, in the poem “En El Norte” (“The Lycidas Research Project,” and “Remor∫le∫s Deep”) I met the requirements of the assignment—researching, reading critical essays and writing for a variety prospective audiences—suggesting that I am able to write comprehensively (in more than one language), as well as complete field research and synthesize my ideas into an accessible language.
As an English literary studies major at Humboldt State University my identity has been mobile, ever-expanding and has intersected with other disciplines; over the course of my academic career I have found that the research I have completed, the biographical and the informational, has expanded my knowledge on various subjects, such as ecology, feminism and even British history. Through hours of research, dozens of essays, and multiple publishing, I now have a greater comprehension of myself as a writer, researcher and editor.
The Lycidas Research Project
Paraphrase of Lycidas
With a summoning of the muse, John Milton begins to close his pastoral elegy “Lycidas.” The narrator calls for Alpheus’s return, assuring him that the “dread voice,” something which had been prominent within the previous section (including a rant about Saint Peters), had now subsided. Instead one finds that the return of artistic expression and beauty is once again normalized with the muse’s return, despite the somberness of Lycidas’s passing. In fact the occasion serves as an opportunity to gather the most gorgeous and eclectic floral arrangement possible. For what cause? To adorn the “Laureat Herse where Lycidas lies” of course. The act itself is almost ritualistic as the reader soon discovers the “speaker of the poem indulges in a fantasy that is given considerable scope before it is crushed” (Oxford 73). This is brought about by the realization that Lycidas’s body was possibly pulled under the ocean by the “whelming tide.” This epiphany is marked by the “tonal change” of that couplet, lines 157-158, which bring forth a profound realization and sad truth, there is an uncertainty of the location of Lycidas’s body (Draper 48). Ultimately the narrator is left with no other choice than to call upon the archangel “Michael” and the “Dolphins” to have pity and convoy the “hapless youth.”
Discussion on Lycidas
The poem “Lycidas” is a lament which marks the passing of John Milton’s classmate Edward King. Within the text Milton utilizes a pastoral elegiac form to express his sorrow for the death of his colleague, and in doing so he transforms the deceased Edward King providing him “the pastoral name of Lycidas, which is equivalent to Adonis, and is associated with the cyclical rhythms of nature” (Frye 119). It is this sort of cryptic subtextual meaning that is utilized by Milton throughout the poem and unless one is well versed in Greek and Roman mythology, the bible, and seventeenth century vernacular one may overlook or misinterpret many of the pertinent details necessary for a full comprehension of the poem. In many ways the poem “Lycidas” can be read as Milton’s attempt to demonstrate his understanding of literary form and familiarity with various texts such as Ovid’s Metamorphosis or Virgil’s Eclogues.
In examining Milton’s poem one finds that he does not stray far from the pastoral elegiac form. Northrop Frye takes note of this and states that “the daily cycle of water, flowing from wells and fountains through rivers to the sea” are of particular importance to the form (Frye 119-120). The elements that Frye mentions become apparent as “Alpheus” is invoked. The theme is then continued as the reader is carried down “gushing brooks” and is finally presented with “Dolphins.” As this passage and movement relates to the whole poem one finds that it serves as a bridge, reminding the reader of the solemn nature of the poem; in a sense balancing issues such as Milton’s social critiques of the church that are also present within the text. The poem achieves this balance by returning the reader to the natural world, specifically with its use of flowers and animals. Ultimately the pastoral elegy “provides a traditional context in which personal grief may be expressed and transcended (Draper 35). Understanding this aspect of the poem is crucial in that it clarifies the purpose of some of the mythological references, several of which are associated with death and loss; as with the mention of the hyacinth. In doing so Milton makes death universal; possible in any culture, anywhere.
In completing this project I now have a clearer understanding of the amount of research and footwork that is needed in order to comprehend foreign or dense literary texts. I discovered that even though there was extensive information on the topics of Milton, elegies, mythologies and on the poem “Lycidas,” I still needed to sift through a number of resources in order to find information which addressed my specific scope of focus. This meant that I had to narrow my keyword searches, consult my colleagues, examine reference books, search through various journal databases and once that was completed, I also had to review the bibliographies of the texts that were the most useful. Although this was rather tedious, I feel that I now have a much better grasp of the poem “Lycidas” as it relates to both the tradition of the elegy and the context of Milton’s own life.
Researching Milton’s poem “Lycidas” I discovered a number of different schools of thought which focused on individual aspects of the related to the poet; some examined the biographical influences in order to provide context to the poem, while others simply examined the piece itself. My personal favorite was the “Concordance to the Poetical Works of John Milton”, a style of reference book that I was not familiar with until this project. The ability to see where and how frequently Milton used specific words and phrases really helped me to see how he developed as an author. I found that much of the figurative language that was present within the poem Lycidas was also present in his later works, which also helped me to identify some reoccurring themes. Having that access helped me when it came time for me to structure my keyword searches.
Terms and Concepts
Alpheus: “Alludes to the myth of Arethusa and Alpheus, the Arcadian water-spirits who plunged underground and reappeared in Sicily” (Frye 121).
Sicilian Muse: This reference is twofold; on one end it falls in line with the conventions of the pastoral elegy in which has the author invokes the power of the muse. On the other it echoes the previous line in which Alpheus’s return is called for.
Bels, Flourets, Primrose, Crow-tow, Gessamine, Pink, Pansie freakt with jeat, etc: The vast amount of flowers are what the speaker would like to see piled upon the “Laureat Herse” of Lycidas. At the same time the flowers help to reestablish a connection to nature and the passage of time, a common element within pastoral elegiac form. While each flower has a distinct attribute (the primrose has associations with the month of February, whereas the crow-tow-also known as wild hyacinth is tied mythological to Hyacinthus) the abundance of flowers within such a small space creates a “vertical garden;” Milton demonstrates a similar floral arrangement in his epic poem “Paradise Lost.” (Gillium)
The swart Star: Sirius, the dogstar
Amaranthus: “A [mythical] fadeless flower” (Lockwood)
the stormy Hebrides: A group of Islands off the west coast of Scotland
Bellerus: Refers to the Roman name for Land’s end, which is Cornwall. It may be a real or fictionalized name of a giant or giants
the guarded Mount: This refers to St Michael’s Mount which position the “archangel looking towards Spain” (Draper 49).
Namancos and Bayona: Namancos is in Spain and Bayona a fortress near Cape Finisterre.
melt with ruth: to be overcome with “pity” (Lockwood)
Draper, Ronald P. “Milton: Lycidas and the Christianised Pastoral Elegy.” Lyric Tragedy. New York: St. Martin’s, 1985. Print.
The text focuses on elements of tragedy; the pastoral elegy being one such element. Draper utilizes the poem “Lycidas” to highlight several key themes found within the literary style of the pastoral elegy. In doing so he guides the reader through the poem, from start to finish, with specific care and attention to moments in which Milton demonstrates his comprehension of the pastoral elegiac literary form. This resource was acquired from the Humboldt State University Library.
Frye, Northrop. “Literature as Context: Milton’s Lycidas.” Fables of Identity; Studies invPoetic Mythology. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963. Print. The structure of Northrop Frye’s text allowed for a development of understanding of pastoral images and context based on the subject of John Milton’s poem “Lycidas” He addresses provides a greater depth of understanding by extending his dialogues to include clarification on the mythic and literary aspects of each section of the poem that he reviews. I found Frye in the Humboldt State University library database.
Gillum, Michael. “Milton’s Roses And Amaranth.” Anq 20.1 (2007): 28-33. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 16 Feb. 2012.
In reading the “A Concordance to the Poetical Works of John Milton” one finds that many of the structures and literary devices which he uses in the poem “Lycidas,” such as the use of flowers are also exclusive to the epic poem “Paradise Lost.” This essay clarifies Milton’s use of the floral arrangement.
Lockwood, Laura Emma. Lexicon to the English Poetical Works of John Milton. New York: B. Franklin, 1968. Print.
In understanding Milton’s vernacular this reference book provides a great deal of insight, clarifying various word connotations, and allusions that are found within poems such as “Paradise Lost,” “Lycidas” and various other within the poet’s repertoire. After consulting the reference desk at the Humboldt State Library this reference book was brought to my awareness
McDowell, Nicholas, and Nigel Smith. The Oxford Handbook of Milton. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
This resource has an extensive amount of information on the poet John Milton, including a chronological biography, background on many of his works and in some cases in-depth analysis of specific texts. It covers the extent of Milton’s life and contains a plethora of essays. This book was located while searching through the section on Milton within the Humboldt State University library.
Milton, John. “Lycidas.” John Milton Reading Room. Dartmouth College. Web. 15 Feb. 2012. <http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/lycidas/>.
This served as a starting point. It helped to establish some base understanding of the poem before any in-depth analysis of the poem began.
Toyon Literary Journal & Publishing Samples:
Remor∫le∫s deep, histories lost and meanings academically constructed:
A Linguistic approach to Milton’s “Lycidas”
Between the third and fifth stanzas of John Milton’s elegiac poem “Lycidas” a usage of various conventions are used to communicate the sentiment of loss. More specifically, through the evocation of “flocks[s]” “Nymphs,” and “Shepherds” Milton constructs a poem that is more than a lament; it is a poem that reveals a history of Greco-Roman, French and German influence. The poem weaves English, Latin and French narratives together— the social, textual and linguistic. Within some areas of the poem the histories interest and are reflected in the content of a single stanza, sentence, or word. Thus, in reading the opening line of the third stanza, one notes that Milton’s lexicon reflects the same pastoral words that are used in poems such as “Spenser’s Astrophel’, Moschus’s ‘Lament for Bion’, Virgil’s ‘Eclogue X’ and Theocritu’s ‘Idyl I’” (Danielson, 35). The effect is that Milton’s lament is epically poetic, but more so, his lament is reflective of a learned form that was a result of the spread of English literacy that occurred during fourteenth through seventeenth century England .
As Milton’s poem progresses, he parallels Roman mythology with English geography, revealing that like his departed Lycidas, the Roman influences of the language have sunk into “remor∫le∫s deep” (Milton, line 50) of the English Language. In short, the mythological references appear foreign to the modern reader and the usage of the [∫] as opposed to a modern [S] seems unfamiliar, yet it appears familiar.
Between the third and the fifth stanzas are a total of 36 lines; the fourth stanza contains the most lines, with a total of thirteen lines. Whereas the fifth stanza contains a mere seven lines, in addition the fifth stanza is comprised of two sentences, one of which is an exclamatory statement. The visual layout [see appendix A] of the stanzas highlights that stanza number four possesses the highest number of lines (however it is not the densest stanza of the poem), and also contains the greatest amount of sentences—a total of four sentences. Similar to the fifth stanza, the fourth stanza begins with an exclamatory statement. Milton cites “But O the heavy change, now thou art gon/ Now thou art gon, and never mu∫t return!” . With a total of 15 commas, one semi colon and an exclamation point, one can suggest that the stanza itself is dramatic and assists in emphasizing the sentiment of loss. In this context the commas serve as pauses that assist in establishing the mournful tone.
Within Milton’s poem “Lycidas” the elegiac tone is conveyed through an evocation of muses, words of sorrow and pastoral imagery. In terms of graphology, various nouns and not only personified but also converted to proper nouns, and thus capitalized, Words that relate to nature and the natural world are the most common—although Milton also capitalizes the first letter of every new line, regardless of the word. The opening lines to Milton’s poem begin, “Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more/ Ye Myrtles brown with Ivy never-∫ear” (1-2). In these opening lines the “Laurels,” Myrtles,” and “Ivy” are all capitalized; Milton continues a system of capitalization throughout his poem—quite common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Within the thirds stanza “Lawns” (25), “Stars” (30), “Heav’ns” (31) and even “Rural” (32) are capitalized. The pattern that becomes apparent is that Milton capitalizes elements of nature (including the astronomical, i.e. scientific), but also makes sure to capitalize the biblical as well—essentially addressing both religious, and scientific words as proper nouns. In doing so he is able to address the mythological characters that are present within the text while not trumping the bible. From an academic perspective he is also demonstrating awareness of botanical and astronomical words. The Third Stanza begins with a collective noun, the word “together,” which is then followed by the word “both,” and Milton then inverts his phrasing after his coordinating conjunction “and.” What starts at morning is then shifted to night; Milton highlights that just like day and night, words are also mobile:
Together both, ere the high Lawns appear’d
Under the opening eye-lids of the morn,
We drove a field, and both together heard
What time the Gray-fly winds her ∫ultery horn,
Batt’ning our flocks with the fre∫h dews of night” (25-29).
In a sense the stanza marks a shift within the poem, not simply of time, but also setting and emotional tone. It is first geographical, then a recollection of memory. The speaker first identifies the region, the “high Lawns,” and then begins to reflect on his shared experience with Lycidas while on the fields. On a linguistic level, one notes the presence of hyphenated compounds (“eye-lids,” “Gray-fly”). More so one notes a standardization of affixes that Milton uses throughout his poem.
The affixes that Milton uses within the Poem “Lycidas” are used to signify tone, identify verbs, and to contract words. The word “appear’d” (25), along with “slop’d,” (31), “danc’d,” “lov’d” (36, 51) all utilize the same ending—a “-‘d.” As part of the elegiac form, the words serve to establish contemplative memories, moments that have passed, and the many ways that the speaker and Lycidas connected with one another. In short, they loved and danced, in this instance the “-d” indicates that the verbs occurred within the past tense.
In addition to the past tense “-d” affix, Milton also contracts the word “the” and provides it with a new function. The word “the”, within Milton’s poem, is contracted to “th’-.“ Milton then uses the suffix to blend words such as “th’Oaten Flute” (33), but also “th’world (80) and th’eclipse” (101). Milton’s repetition of contracted words, which are represented as various affixes (“-‘d”, “th’-“, “-‘ning”, “o’-“, and “-‘st”), demonstrate his attempts to standardize his own grammar. While some of Milton’s poem, reflect poetic license one cannot discount his own education.
History reveals that Milton was an educated man, and his poem “Lycidas” first appeared in a Cambridge anthology. The anthology was a collection of poems that memorialized the deceased Edward King, a colleague of Milton; the work was titled (in Latin), Justa Edouardo King naufrago (Evans 35). Milton’s choice of contractions, the verb “batt’ning” (29), or the past tense verb “danc’d” (34) for example, reflect his poetic license but simultaneously highlight a seventeenth century Cambridge education. In short, Milton’s education reflects the effects of the spread of literacy within England.
Within his text Inventing English: A Portable History of the English Language,Seth Lerer cites that during the Great Vowel Shift, “urban merchants [and/] or provincial gentry learned to read and write for economic and social advancement “ (104). In regards to Milton’s poem, the various references to mythological creatures, such as the “Satyrs” (30); historical cultures such as the “Druids” (53); varied usages of a standard spelling system, (represented through the capitalization of specific nouns), and multiple conjugation forms indicate that Milton has learned to read and write—more so Milton has learned to write well. In addition to his English lexicon, he also incorporates historical and geographical terms within his poem, suggesting that his audience is also aware of his references. Milton’s language represents, according to Samuel Johnson, an “Englishness of idiom,” but more so, Milton demonstrates an “ideal [use] of figurative language.” Samuel Johnson published a prescriptive dictionary in 1755 and cited Milton throughout his text (167, 176). Johnson’s commentary is reflective of Early Modern ideology that surrounded the usage of English grammar. In addition, Johnson’s references to Milton reveal the impact that Milton on the English language itself.
Within Milton’s life, the English language was in the midst of a “raising of vowels,” a several hundred year event that is referred to as the Great Vowel Shift. In contrasting Milton’s words with the earlier, but equally recognizable, Geoffrey Chaucer, one notes that between the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries a “systematic change occurred.” Lerer cites that the changes affected the entire sound system (102-103, 106). Both Chaucer and Milton represent different historical points within the Great Vowel Shift. The differences between the poems of the respective authors are graphological, but also phonological. For example, the word “dead,” appears in the opening stanza, on the eighth line of Milton’s Lycidas; juxtaposed with Chaucer’s spelling of the same word (Chaucer spells it as “deed”), one cites that the words are different in spelling and in sound. According to Lerer, Chaucer is able to rhyme the word “deed” with the word “heed” (Lerer 93). The contrast between the two words reveals that over the course of some two hundred years (roughly the amount of years that separate Milton and Chaucer’s lifetimes) the vowels shifted. The example provided demonstrates the shift from [e] to [i]. (In modern American English the vowel sound in “dead” is [ε]. Although Chaucer and Milton possess some lexical differences both share a similarity in regards to pronoun usage.
Between Chaucer’s era and Milton’s the T and V (also referred to as the Y) pronoun forms remain in use—today the forms appear archaic. Within Lycidas, Milton makes use of both the formal Y and informal T forms. The usage of both formal and informal pronouns is particularly apparent in Milton’s transition from stanza three to stanza four. The “Satyrs,” “Fauns” and “Old Damætas” are all italicized and capitalized, demonstrating that they are non-English words and proper nouns; Milton, however, does not address any of them directly. Instead the trio is collectively addressed with a first person, plural possessive, the word “our” (36). In contrast, when Milton speaks about Lycidas, he uses the T form—even repeating it. The opening lines to the fourth stanza begin with a preposition, the word “but” and continues with Milton exclaiming, “now thou art gone” (37), which he then repeats. (38). The effect is that Milton demonstrates what is closest to him, the loss of a fellow academic.
In closing, Milton’s poem contains, within its lines, a history of shifts that have occurred within the English Language. Furthermore, the poem “Lycidas” reveals that by Milton’s era there were standardizations in writing that were not present within previous centuries. Thus, his elegiac poem not only preserves a history of Roman influence but also one that was demonstrates an academic background—a by-product of the spread of literacy. Reflecting on the poem in the modern era, one notes that to proclaim “thee Sheppard,” or thy lo∫s” or even “ye Nymphs (50) is to sound archaic. Yet in 1638, the year the “Lycidas” was first published, the people would have comprehended the subtle nuances of each pronoun form. However, to the modern individual the meanings of such forms have been lost to remorseless deep.
Brett, R.L. Reason and Imagination: A Stud of Form and Meaning in Four Poems. 21-50. Oxford U of P, 1960. Print
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Trans. Peter Tuttle. New York: Barnes and Noble Books. 2007 Print.
Danielson, Denis, Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Milton. 35-50. Great Britain: U P Cambridge. 1989. Print.
Lerer, Seth. Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language. New York: U of P Columbia, 2007. Print.
“O, N.1.”: Oxford English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
Patrides, C.A. Ed. Milton’s Lycidas: The Tradition and the Poem. United States: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1961. Print
Tuve, Rosmund. Images and Themes in Five Poems by Milton. 73-11. Cambridge:
Harvard UP. 1962. Print.
William O’ Grady et al. Ed. Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction. 15-55, 59-91. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin, 2010. Print
- Brett discusses Milton’s education in relation to his form within
his text, listed on the works cited page.
2.The letter “O” is both the fifteenth letter of the modern English
alphabet and the fourteenth letter of the Roman alphabet. Cited within the Oxford English Dictionary.
Appendix A: Visual Layout
___________, _______________________/ __________________-_____________,/
_____________, ___________________ /_______________-____________________,/
___________________________________,/ ______________________, /
_________________________________, ______________, __________________!
____________, ____________, ______________,
En El Norte.
Busqué un árbol.
Encontré el Prunus sargentii, un “cherry blossom,”
su corona rojiza, llamando la primavera–
sin trofeo de flores
Busqué un árbol,
con mis dos pies
con mi bicicleta
con mi libro en la mano.
Busqué un árbol
Encontré un Sempervirens de secoya; un “redwood”
El tronco recto como una pistola,
como un cañón
como el horizonte.
Busqué, por arriba y por abajo pero no encontré el árbol,
no estaba en mi libro,
no estaba en la calle.
No estaba dondequiera.
Me senté, bajo las ramas del Sorbus aucuparia, “Mountain Ash”
¿Dónde pudiera estar el árbol?
Me Paré bajo de los carnosos frutas del Sorbus aucuparia,
Con un libro, una botella de agua y una sensación que yo estaba perdido—
otra víctima del invierno.
Michael Ray is a California-grown, native Angelino, hailing from Virgil Village; and is an advocate for public green space, edible gardens, and animal rights. As graduate of Humboldt State University, this artisan has worked alongside the Humboldt Student Food Collective, the Campus Center For Appropriate Technology (CCAT), The Humboldt Circus, Broadchester Farms, Burkart Organics and The California Environmental Legacy Project, creating ecologically conscious art in the forms of live theater, documentaries, paintings, zines, and essays.