Lycidas is an embodiment of the long process of education Milton underwent for the task of writing epic. The experience of its speaker, the “uncouth swain,” is primarily that of struggle. Milton believed that man fails to see truth partly because he fights actively against it. The swain tries to shield himself against the pain of reality by casting his experience in the modes of pastoral convention. But each attempt to substitute idealized memory or symbolic analogy for actuality is defeated, in part because the language of pastoral itself points toward a transcendent redefinition of its meaning. The swain's view of his poetic vocation changes during the poem, and when he at last abandons his attempts to surround Lycidas’ death with literary artifice, he is granted a vision of Lycidas’ true state. In the “consolation passage” the poet speaks for the first time to a human audience, and takes on the double burden of knowledge and pastoral responsibility. The psychological pattern of resistance and acceptance is reflected in the recurrent conflict Milton records between his eagerness to attain and use full poetic powers and his willed submission to God's providence. In Lycidas this battle is fought out in the form of discovery of the true meaning of “shepherd” the language of the passage of consolation leads directly to the new shepherd who prays for inspiration at the beginning of Paradise Lost.

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