Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Peter in Lycidas

    This post will be my last brief analysis on Lycidas before I move onto some other aspect of Milton's career or vocation as a poet. I'd like to get into his political and religious viewpoints that we find in his published tracts when Britain was tearing apart due to the coming civil war. But for now let's look at lines 109-115 of Lycidas:

The Pilot of the Galilean lake,
Two massy Keyes he bore of metals twain,
(The Golden opes, the Iron shuts amain)
He shook his Miter'd locks, and stern bespake,
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?

    Milton has Peter, the apostle, in view when he wrote the above lines. The keys are instruments that bind and loose or open and shut the gate. He was given the power to include or exclude those who would be seeking to enter into Heaven. But why would Milton choose Peter in the midst of this pagan pastoral scene?

    Here Peter speaks with authority. He has the power either to allow or disallow Milton's companion entrance into the kingdom of Heaven. This authoritative sternness that bellows out from the apostle is in contrast to the mellow harmony of the mythological figures that we find in the rest of the poem.

    The Christian audience breathes a sigh of relief when we encounter Peter, who speaks directly to the young swain. Setting aside the debate of whether Peter was exclusively given the keys of the kingdom, I think that he is used here as a relief from the figures that we find in the Greco-Roman myths, which we pick up on as we read this highly elusive poem.

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