Milton and Scriptural Tradition: The Bible into Poetry

By James H. Sims; Leland Ryken | Go to book overview

Scriptural Formula and Prophetic Utterance in Lycidas

Michael Lieb

Although no reader of Lycidas can fail to recognize something of its indebtedness to scriptural tradition, the full extent of that indebtedness is only now receiving the attention it deserves. A case in point is the significance of the phrase "Yet once more" with which the poem opens.1 As recently as 1972, the ongoing Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton made almost nothing of the scriptural underpinnings of this phrase.2 Since that time, however, a number of scholars have attempted to rectify that oversight with illuminating analyses of both Old Testament and New Testament sources. Derived from Haggai 2:6-7 and Hebrews 12:26-27, "Yet once more" has been ably placed in its scriptural contexts by scholars such as David S. Berkeley and most notably Joseph A. Wittreich, Jr.3 Consolidating the findings of recent

____________________
1
References to Milton's poetry in my text are to The Complete Poetry of John Milton, ed. John T Shawcross, 2d ed. ( Garden City: Doubleday, 1971). I wish to thank the staffs of the Newberry Library, the Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago, and the Lutheran School of Theology Library for their assistance.
2
Gen. ed. Merritt Y. Hughes, 4 vols. to date ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1970- ). For Lycidas, see the commentary and notes of A. S. P. Woodhouse and Douglas Bush, vol. 2, pt. 2, p. 639. Updating Woodhouse with bracketed insertions, Bush alludes to David S. Berkeley note in Notes & Queries 8 ( 1961): 178 on the scriptural context but does not elaborate on Berkeley's findings.
3
In addition to Berkeley's note cited above, see his Inwrought with Figures Dim: A Reading of Milton's "Lycidas" ( The Hague: Mouton, 1974), pp. 33-34. For Wittreich, see "'A Poet Amongst Poets': Milton and the Tradition of Prophecy," in Milton and the Line of Vision, ed. Joseph A. Wittreich Jr. ( Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975), pp. 117-23, and the chapter on "Lycidas" in his Visionary Poetics: Milton's Tradition and His Legacy ( San Marino, Calif.: Henry E. Huntington Library, 1979), esp. pp. 138-41. Additional insights may be found in Edward Tayler , Milton's Poetry: Its Development in Time ( Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1980), pp. 45-59.

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