Monday, 8 February 2016

Story of a Madman by Émile Zola.

Caricature of the portrait of Émile Zola by Manet (below),
by André Gill (1868).
Story of a Madman (Histoire d'un fou) is a short story by Émile Zola, first published in Esquisses de la vie parisienne in 1868, a year after the publication of Thérèse Raquin (1867) and six years before La Conquête de Plassans (1874) - the two novels that share many similarities with this story.

In it, Zola tells the story of Isidore-Jean-Louis Maurin who, at the age of forty, married an eighteen year old woman Henriette. She, however, embarks on a passionate affair with a young doctor living in the flat above theirs and they conspire to "get rid of" Maurin. They are unable to bring themselves to kill him so they plot to convince others that Maurin is mad:
One night the whole house was aroused by dreadful screams coming from the owner's flat. They forced open the door and found the young woman in a terrible state, kneeling on the floor, all dishevelled and shrieking, her shoulders covered in red weals. Maurin was standing in front of her, trembling and quite bewildered. His speech was slurred like that of a drunken man and when pressed he was quite incapable of replying coherently. 
"I can't understand it," he stammered, "I didn't go near her, she suddenly started screaming." 
When Henriette had somewhat recovered her composure, she herself stammered something, giving her husband a strange look full of a kind of frightened pity. The neighbours went away great;y intrigued and even rather horrified, muttering to themselves that "it wasn't all that clear".
This is repeated "regularly" and Maurin is so worried he can't sleep, loses weight, and looks pale and ill. A rumour goes around that he has gone mad; Maurin is aware of this and tries to avoid any kind of behaviour that could be interpreted as showing madness, but the more he so the more he convinces other people he is losing mind. Eventually the police are called and he is taken to a lunatic asylum (Charenton, where the Marquis de Sade was incarcerated and also André Gill, the caricaturist whose 1868 cartoon of Zola I've used for this post. He died there in 1885).

The lovers are able to enjoy their relationship without the worry of discovery, but Henriette grows tired of the farce and decides to travel to Charenton to make a full confession and be reunited with her husband, however:
When they took her to her husband she saw in a shadowy corner of his cell a pale, thin, filthy, animal-like figure, more ghost than man, who stood up and looked at her with eyes full of mindless, imbecilic horror. The poor man failed to recognise her. And as she stood there in terror, he began to sway to and fro with an idiotic laugh. Suddenly he burst out sobbing, and stammered: "I can't understand it, I can't understand it... I didn't go near her!..." 
Then he hurled himself flat on the floor, exactly as Henriette had done, and kept hitting himself on the shoulders as he screamed and rolled around on the ground. 
"He does that trick twenty times a day," said the warder who had accompanied the young woman. 
With her teeth chattering with fear and almost fainting, she covered her eyes to avoid looking at the man she had reduced to this brute beast. 
Maurin was mad.
And there ends Story of a Madman.

Portrait of Émile Zola by Édouard Manet (1868).
Psychiatry and lunatic asylums were a popular subject in the late 19th Century, and as the century grew on the number of those in lunatic asylums grew from a few hundred at the beginning of the century to hundreds of thousands by the end (in France asylums often housed double their capacity). The understanding of mental illness was based on the idea of social Darwinism, that madness is inherited. Jacques Joseph Moreau de Tours is one such psychiatrist who advocated this belief in France, and another - Benedict Augustus Morel. Paul Turnbull writes of Morel,
In 1856 he was appointed director of the mental asylum at Saint-Yon in northern France. Here, he combined political radicalism with Catholicism when approaching mental disorders. As with many men of his time, Morel was shocked at the increase in crime, sickness, and forms of insanities, and attempted to identify the underlying "natural forces" that shaped mental disorders. Morel was struck that many of his patients looked unusual and he noticed that asylum patients often had a special physiognomy. For example, he noted that some of his patients with mental retardation ("the cretins") had goitres. He suggested that psychological disorders, and generally all abnormalities of human behaviour, were an expression of an abnormal constitution in the organisms that displayed disorders. He believed that an abnormal constitution could be inherited and was subject to progressive evolution towards decay.
Zola was very interested in this idea of inherited traits and characteristics, indeed his Rougon Macquart series is partly based on this, and in 1868, the year this story was published, he began to conceive an idea that combined theology and physiology. This would be his 1874 novel La Conquête de Plassans

For this, Story of a Madman is an interesting read, but even the Émile Zola fan has to admit that Zola's stories of women cheating on their husbands and causing great upset is rather ironic given that Émile Zola had a mistress and a 'secret family' causing his wife Alexandrine considerable pain when she discovered this fact. Nonetheless it is still an important part of Zola's works.

(This was my sixth Deal Me In title. Next week: The Dorsetshire Labourer by Thomas Hardy)

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Further Reading

Friday, 5 February 2016

Theogony by Hesiod.

I'd been looking forward to reading Hesiod's Theogony after recently reading Hyperion by John Keats (1818-19), which was inspired by Hesiod's tale of Hyperion (Ὑπερίων), one of the twelve children of Gaia. Theogony is not simply about Hyperion however, just a small part of it: Theogony (Θεογονία) is a poem describing the genealogies and origin of the gods and goddesses, hence the title. The poem is only 1022 lines, however these are the densest and probably most intimidating 1022 lines I've yet come across!

What follows is more a collection of notes than a review: I thought it would be helpful to make a few lists which I may need to consult in the future.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Evelina by Fanny Burney.

More often than not when I read a book for the second time I have a different experience to the first: I love it more, I wonder why I loved it in the first place, I see something I missed, or appreciated something I showed little regard for originally, but in re-reading Evelina by Fanny Burney the experience was almost exactly the same. 

Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World is an epistolary novel first published in 1778. It was the first published novel of Fanny or Frances Burney. She tells the story of Evelina in a series of letters; Evelina is a young woman who has been raised by her guardian, the Rev. Arthur Villars (her mother died, her father Sir John Belmont denied his marriage to Evelina's mother Caroline Evelyn, and thus denied Evelina). The novel begins with Lady Howard, a friend of Rev. Villars and Evelina, asking if Evelina may spend some time with her and her family. No sooner does she arrive but the family take a trip to London, and there Evelina's problems start. She is a young girl making her "entrance" as the subtitle suggests, and going from the provincial Bristol to the country's capital is throwing her into the deep end. She makes mistakes, sadly embarrasses herself numerous times, and inadvertently offends various people as she tries to get to grips with the rules and etiquette of the rich and fashionable, observing at one point,
But, really, I think there ought to be a book of the laws and customs à-la-mode, presented to all young people upon their first introduction into public company.
Aside from these mistakes here and there, there is also a little melodrama in the storyline involving Madame Duval, Evelina's grandmother, who finds her and tries to push herself into Evelina's life. She is outspoken, embarrassing, and quarrelsome, all of which adds to Evelina's woes. Despite all of this it is a gently humorous novel and, as one would expect, a love story: Evelina falls in love with Lord Orville and we see the development of their relationship.

One aspect I admired about Evelina is that through her Burney examines the late 18th Century upper classes; their behaviour, their hobbies, and most importantly as I said their social rules and norms, as well as the different standards to which women and men are held. I do enjoy the technique of bringing in an outsider, in this case Evelina, to learn about a society or set (Émile Zola is another author fond of this method). Yet this is not a book I can really get into. I liked it in the beginning, loved it more as I read on, then somewhere towards the end of Vol. II (there are three volumes) I was truly tired of reading it. For me it promises so much, and I'm frustrated I couldn't get into it a second time. Yet not all was lost: on the whole it is enjoyable and I did appreciate the snapshot of late 18th Century life in England. 

To finish, here are a selection of Hugh Thomson's illustrations from the 1903 edition published by Macmillan & co.


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Further Reading

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Two Parsons by Virginia Woolf | The Diary of a Country Parson 1758 - 1802 by James Woodforde.

Parson Woodforde by Samuel Woodforde.
I'd first heard about Parson James Woodforde when I read Virginia Woolf's essay 'The Two Parsons' in her The Common Reader Second Series (first published in 1932) in which she writes about Parson Woodforde and the Rev. John Skinner.

She begins, in the first part, on Parson Woodforde, to question why he kept a diary:
For forty-three years he sat down almost daily to record what he did on Monday and what he had for dinner on Tuesday; but for whom he wrote or why he wrote it is impossible to say. He does not unburden his soul in his diary; yet it is no mere record of engagements and expenses. As for literary fame, there is no sign that he ever thought of it, and finally, though the man himself is peaceable above all things, there are little indiscretions and criticisms which would have got him into trouble and hurt the feelings of his friends had they read them. What purpose, then, did the sixty-eight little books fulfil? Perhaps it was the desire for intimacy. When James Woodforde opened one of his neat manuscript books he entered into conversation with a second James Woodforde, who was not quite the same as the reverend gentleman who visited the poor and preached in the church. These two friends said much that all the world might hear; but they had a few secrets which they shared with each other only. It was a great comfort, for example, that Christmas when Nancy, Betsy, and Mr. Walker seemed to be in conspiracy against him, to exclaim in the diary, “The treatment I meet with for my Civility this Christmas is to me abominable”. The second James Woodforde sympathised and agreed. 
Woolf elaborates on the intimacy present and the effects on the reader, that "reading" isn't even quite the word:
It is slipping through half a dozen pages and strolling to the window and looking out. It is going on thinking about the Woodfordes while we watch the people in the street below. It is taking a walk and making up the life and character of James Woodforde as we go. It is not reading any more than it is writing — what to call it we scarcely know.
From here she goes on to offer some biographical details - such as that he was to marry Betsy White but she jilted him for someone with "five hundred pounds a year", and that Parson Woodforde scarcely mentioned it, though his pain was very visible in the very short passage which concludes, "she has proved herself to me a mere jilt". But, Woolf asks, to what extent would this truly have devastated the Parson. His real passion was simply to live, and this we see in his diary. He was a simple man; as Woolf writes,
For James Woodforde was nothing in particular. Life had it all her own way with him. He had no special gift; he had no oddity or infirmity. It is idle to pretend that he was a zealous priest. God in Heaven was much the same to him as King George upon the throne — a kindly Monarch, that is to say, whose festivals one kept by preaching a sermon on Sunday much as one kept the Royal birthday by firing a blunderbuss and drinking a toast at dinner. Should anything untoward happen, like the death of a boy who was dragged and killed by a horse, he would instantly, but rather perfunctorily, exclaim, “I hope to God the Poor Boy is happy”, and add, “We all came home singing”; just as when Justice Creed’s peacock spread its tail —“and most noble it is”— he would exclaim, “How wonderful are Thy Works O God in every Being”. But there was no fanaticism, no enthusiasm, no lyric impulse about James Woodforde.
He records his daily activities - always the weather, always what he had to eat, and the events of the day - who said what, who he baptised, who he buried, where he went, who he saw. He played cards, went hare coursing, saw to his chickens and pigs, and he was happy and content to do so. Woolf writes,
... his house fits him; a tree is a tree; a chair is a chair; each knows its office and fulfils it. Looking through the eyes of Parson Woodforde, the different lives of men seem orderly and settled. Far away guns roar; a King falls; but the sound is not loud enough to scare the rooks here in Norfolk. The proportions of things are different. The Continent is so distant that it looks a mere blur; America scarcely exists; Australia is unknown. But a magnifying glass is laid upon the fields of Norfolk. Every blade of grass is visible there. We see every lane and every field; the ruts on the roads and the peasants’ faces. Each house stands in its own breadth of meadow isolated and independent. 
It was this that made me want to read Parson Woodforde so I looked out for his diary and eventually found The Diary of a Country Parson 1758 - 1802 in Barter Books. It is an edited version - the Parson's diary itself consisted of 72 notebooks and 100 loose sheets. He was born in 1740 in Somerset, and attended Oxford University (New College) from 1758. The diary starts in a most dull way, and I can easily quote the entire diary of that first year:
1758 
Oct. 19. A pair of Curling Tongs £0. 2. 8
Oct. 20. Two Logick Books 0. 6. 0
Oct. 25. Two Bottles of Port Wine 0. 3. 4
Nov. 6. A Sack of Coal 0. 4. 9
Nov. 7. A Musick Book 0. 1. 6
This method of diary-keeping continued to July 1759, though the passages are still very short, such as "Nov. 16. [1759] Gave away my snuff-box to a Particular Friend". From 1761 however they become more detailed and we see Parson Woodforde as a student in Oxford and follow his travels to the surrounding areas; a brief but enlightening part of the diary. For me, though, the diary really gets interesting on May 24th 1776 when James Woodforde moves to Weston Longville in Norfolk. He was joined by his niece Nancy, who was not as content with living with her uncle in Norfolk, but nevertheless she remained with him until his death. And so in Woodforde's diary we see the comings and goings of the people and the seasons. He records, for example, some frightfully cold winters, frost in the inside of the house, snow four feet deep, and then the winds, once smashing in their windows (see also 25th January 1795: "The frost this Morning more severe than Yesterday. It froze the Chamber Pots above Stairs"). It is gentle, and above all else quite simply recorded, Parson Woodforde is not one for frills. Some key events are recorded, most notably the Storming of the Bastille: this was on 14th July 1789 but the Parson did not hear about it until ten days later:
July 24, Friday. I breakfasted, dined &c. again at Cole... Very great Rebellion in France by the Papers - The Bath Paper (the only Paper taken in here) comes every Friday Morning. Mr. Robert Clarke of Castle-Cary spent the Aft. with us. He was drove in by the Rain, as he was going to Bruton, and stayed till the Evening, he did not go to Bruton.
So much for the Bastille: it may have had a great impact in European history but it did not have an impact on the Parson's day in Norfolk. On Louis XVI however he writes a little more:
Janry. 26, Saturday. I breakfasted, dined, &c. again at home. Nancy breakfasted, dined, &c. again at home. Dinner to day Souse, Veal Pye and Calfs Heart rosted. Billy Midewells People brought our Newspapers from Norwich. The King of France Louis 16 inhumanly and injustly beheaded on Monday last by his cruel, blood-thirsty Subjects. Dreadful times I am afraid are approaching all Europe. France the foundation of it all. The poor King of France bore his horrid fate with manly fortitude and resignation. Pray God he may be eternally happy in thy heavenly Kingdom. And have mercy upon his Queen, 2. children and their Aunt Princess Elizabeth, all of whom by the Papers are very ill indeed in their confinement. Their lives are in great danger now of being taken away by the French Assassins or Ruffians.
Yet, aside from these little details the Parson lives a very quiet life, and it is this that makes The Diary of a Country Parson remarkable: Woodforde shows life in all its simplicity, stillness, and beauty without the need of any kind of dramatic narrative. Not much shocks or jars in this book - perhaps the most shocking entry in it comes from 17th November 1794:
Mr. Maynard Rector of Morton called on me this Morning to ask my Advice, about one of his Parish by the name of Fisher, doing a king of Penance next Sunday for calling Mrs. Michael Andrews a Whore. He shewed me the form issued out of the Bishops Court. It is called a Deed of Retraction. A foolish kind of Affair between the parties, and the expenses of which to both must be high.
As Woolf writes,
Life and death, mortality and immortality, jostle in his pages and make a good mixed marriage of it: “. . . found the old gentleman almost at his last gasp. Totally senseless with rattlings in his Throat. Dinner today boiled beef and Rabbit rosted.” All is as it should be; life is like that. 
And she concludes her essay,
Still, if it is a dream, let us indulge it a moment longer. Let us believe that some things last, and some places and some people are not touched by change. On a fine May morning, with the rooks rising and the hares scampering and the plover calling among the long grass, there is much to encourage the illusion. It is we who change and perish. Parson Woodforde lives on. It is the kings and queens who lie in prison. It is the great towns that are ravaged with anarchy and confusion. But the river Wensum still flows; Mrs. Custance is brought to bed of yet another baby; there is the first swallow of the year. The spring comes, and summer with its hay and strawberries; then autumn, when the walnuts are exceptionally fine though the pears are poor; so we lapse into winter, which is indeed boisterous, but the house, thank God, withstands the storm; and then again there is the first swallow, and Parson Woodforde takes his greyhounds out a-coursing.
There is most certainly something about the life of Parson Woodforde that makes me wish he was alive and that those times still existed today. It was not, of course, to be; the diary ends with the inevitable "The rest of the page is blank. The Diary has come to an end". Parson Woodforde died on New Year's Day 1803, and after reading a (albeit edited) diary of whole adult life, it is a sad and moving thing to read that sentence. I do urge everyone to try and get a hold of a copy - it is pure, uplifting beauty. 

And as James Woodforde lived his life in Norfolk, a few years apart another member of the clergy, the Rev. John Skinner (1772–1839), lived his in Somerset. I haven't read his diaries, but Woolf writes of them in the second part of her essay, though I'll not dwell too much on this second part. She writes he was an altogether different man,
Irritable, nervous, apprehensive, he seems to embody, even before the age itself had come into existence, all the strife and unrest of our distracted times. He stands, dressed in the prosaic and unbecoming stocks and pantaloons of the early nineteenth century, at the parting of the ways. Behind him lay order and discipline and all the virtues of the heroic past, but directly he left his study he was faced with drunkenness and immorality; with indiscipline and irreligion; with Methodism and Roman Catholicism; with the Reform Bill and the Catholic Emancipation Act, with a mob clamouring for freedom, with the overthrow of all that was decent and established and right. Tormented and querulous, at the same time conscientious and able, he stands at the parting of the ways, unwilling to yield an inch, unable to concede a point, harsh, peremptory, apprehensive, and without hope.
He begins his diary in 1822, "fixed in his opinion that the mass of men are unjust and malicious, and that the people of Camerton are more corrupt even than the mass of men." His life was not the idyllic life of the Parson in Norfolk:
There was nothing left to live for. Yet what had he done to make everyone hate him? Why did the farmers call him mad? Why did Joseph say that no one would read what he wrote? Why did the villagers tie tin cans to the tail of his dog? Why did the peacocks shriek and the bells ring? Why was there no mercy shown to him and no respect and no love? With agonising repetition the diary asks these questions; but there was no answer. At last, one morning in December 1839, the Rector took his gun, walked into the beech wood near his home, and shot himself dead. 
I do want to read the Rev. Skinner's diaries, though clearly the contrast will be great. I love reading diaries, in them we do see real life; that on the death of Louis XVI people still had breakfast, and when Parsons are burying infants in the bleak midwinter they still feel the cold most severely. Chamber pots did freeze, people do argue, and life goes on.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Lycidas by John Milton.

John Milton, attributed to Godfrey Kneller (1690).
Lycidas is a poem by John Milton written in 1637 and published in Justa Edouardo King Naufrago, 1638: Obsequies to the Memory of Mr. Edward King, a collection of poems by King's friends. The poem is dedicated to his friend Edward King who drowned in 1637 when his ship sank in the Irish Sea. Lycidas, a shepherd in this pastoral poem, represents King.

The poem begins,
Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more,
Ye Myrtles brown, with Ivy never-sear,
I com to pluck your Berries harsh and crude,
And with forc'd fingers rude,
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,
Compels me to disturb your season due:
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer:
Who would not sing for Lycidas? he knew
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not flote upon his watry bear
Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of som melodious tear.
These plants: the laurel, myrtle, and ivy all symbolise love; that with the stark statement, "For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime, Young Lycidas" suggests real loss. Milton continues,
Begin, then, Sisters of the sacred well,
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring,
Begin, and somwhat loudly sweep the string.
This reminded me of the beginnings of Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey ("Sing, O Muse"); the mention of Jove or Jupiter sets the poem up as an imitation of ancient literature, specifically the Romans (Jove or Jupiter is the Roman equivalent of the Greek's Zeus). Yet the name Lycidas suggests Greek - Lycidas (Λυκίδας) is mentioned in Herodotus' Histories - he was stoned to death. Then again we can find the name Lycidas in Theocritus - a 3rd Century B.C. pastoral poet. Finally though we see him in Virgil, used as the name for a shepherd. This must be the source of Milton's inspiration - Virgil is mentioned and alluded to again in this poem. 

Milton goes on to remember his friend in this idealised pastoral setting, possibly one of my favourite parts of the poem:
We drove a field, and both together heard
What time the Gray-fly winds her sultry horn,
Batt'ning our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the Star that rose, at Ev'ning, bright  
Toward Heav'ns descent had slop'd his westering wheel.
Mean while the Rural ditties were not mute,
Temper'd to th'Oaten Flute;
Rough Satyrs danc'd, and Fauns with clov'n heel,
From the glad sound would not be absent long,  
And old Damætas lov'd to hear our song.
  But O the heavy change, now thou art gon,
Now thou art gon, and never must return!
Thee Shepherd, thee the Woods, and desert Caves,
With wilde Thyme and the gadding Vine o'regrown,  
And all their echoes mourn.
The Willows, and the Hazle Copses green,
Shall now no more be seen,
Fanning their joyous Leaves to thy soft layes.
As killing as the Canker to the Rose,
Or Taint-worm to the weanling Herds that graze,
Or Frost to Flowers, that their gay wardrop wear,
When first the White thorn blows;
Such, Lycidas, thy loss to Shepherds ear.
Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus
by John William Waterhouse (1900).
His pain is evident in the next lines, his accusing question to the Muses - "Where were ye Nymphs when the remorseless deep / Clos'd o're the head of your lov'd Lycidas?". He then remembers how the Muses could prevent others from drowning: mentioning Orpheus,
What could the Muse her self that Orpheus bore,
The Muse her self, for her inchanting son
Whom Universal nature did lament, When by the rout that made the hideous roar,
His goary visage down the stream was sent,
Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore.
And, with a allusion to Virgil, he asks,
Were it not better done as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neaera's hair?
Amaryllis is a shepherdess that appears in Virgil's Ecologues; Neaera is a nymph from the same. Milton is essentially asking why one works hard, what is the point? But he answers his own question, "Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise". He then dwells on the fickleness of Fame and Fortune, and that poor Lycidas died before attaining any such position. Here Apollo arrives - Milton refers to him as Phoebus, meaning god of light, and he tells the speaker that Fame is found in heaven according to Jove's will:
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in heaven expect thy meed [reward].
Yet still the speaker is not comforted - he wants to know why Lycidas died, and how anyone could let it happen. Neptune, the god of the sea, wonders too -  "What hard mishap hath doomed this gentle swain?" With no real answers, the speaker blames the ship itself:
It was that fatal and perfidious bark,
Built in the eclipse, and rigged with curses dark,
That sunk so low that sacred head of thine.
Up to here we have seen the Muses, Apollo, Neptune, and then Camus, a personification of the River Cam that runs through Cambridge (which was where Milton and King attended university). The final figure in Milton's poem is Saint Peter - "The Pilot of the Galilean lake", clearly not a Greek or Roman figure but a Biblical one; Saint Peter speaks of shepherds after Lycidas as unworthy - 
How well could I have spar'd for thee, young swain,
Anow of such as for their bellies sake,
Creep and intrude, and climb into the fold?
Of other care they little reck'ning make,
Then how to scramble at the shearers feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest.
Blind mouthes! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A Sheep-hook, or have learn'd ought els the least
That to the faithfull Herdmans art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
And when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel Pipes of wretched straw,
The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread:
Besides what the grim Woolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing sed,
But that two-handed engine at the door, Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.
The Hireling Shepherd by William Holman Hunt (1851).
Here Milton seems to attack the church, 'a shepherd and his flock' being a common symbol of the church and its congregation (William Holman Hunt does the same in the painting to the right).

Milton then returns to Alpheus, the river god, and the pastoral images are picked back up:
Return Alpheus, the dread voice is past,
That shrunk thy streams; Return Sicilian Muse,
And call the Vales, and bid them hither cast
Their Bels, and Flourets of a thousand hues.
Ye valleys low where the milde whispers use,
Of shades and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,
On whose fresh lap the swart Star sparely looks,
Throw hither all your quaint enameld eyes,
That on the green terf suck the honied showres,
And purple all the ground with vernal flowres.
Bring the rathe Primrose that forsaken dies.
The tufted Crow-toe, and pale Gessamine,
The white Pink, and the Pansie freakt with jeat,
The glowing Violet.
The Musk-rose, and the well attir'd Woodbine.
With Cowslips wan that hang the pensive hed,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears:
Bid Amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
To strew the Laureat Herse where Lycid lies.
Flowers each have a special meaning; Primrose - devotion, being unable to live without the one you love; Crow-toe (Crowfoot) - beautiful but poisonous; the pansy - loving thoughts; violet for faithfulness, etc. And these flowers are too in mourning - the pansy is "freakt with jeat" - 'streaked with jet', the Cowslips "wan", and the Daffodils cry. Milton's speaker bids "Amaranthus all his beauty shed" - this mythical flower is believed never to lose its beauty. He goes on to think of a memorial for Lycidas, given that his body is lost at sea. He then thinks of the rebirth of Lycidas:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of him that walk'd the waves
Where other groves, and other streams along,
With Nectar pure his oozy Lock's he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptiall Song,
In the blest Kingdoms meek of joy and love.
This thought gives the speaker comfort, and he finishes with,
Thus sang the uncouth Swain to th'Okes and rills,
While the still morn went out with Sandals gray,
He touch'd the tender stops of various Quills,
With eager thought warbling his Dorick lay:
And now the Sun had stretch'd out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the Western bay;
At last he rose, and twitch'd his Mantle blew:
To morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new.
And there finishes Milton's Lycidas. It is one incredibly tough and complicated poem but somehow satisfying. If one can put aside it's sad subject matter it can be treated as a code: it is so dense, so full of Greek, Roman, and Biblical allusions piecing them together is quite enjoyable. What makes it a great poem is the sensitivity he shows to mourning - the shock, anger, denial, depression, and finally acceptance. For that it is an incredibly good poem. Nonetheless it is a very hard one and very intimidating, and, dare I say, quite contrived. You can read the poem in full here.

And that was my fifth title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week, another Zola: Story of a Madman.
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