Critical evaluation deems the passage more interesting in a historical context than a poetic one. Much effort has been spent on study of the lines concluding that section, "'But that two-handed engine at the door / Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.'" The image of the two-handed engine is taken from the biblical St. Peter, who notes the engines will smite evil within the church. At least 40 different explanations of the engines have been critically summarized, including the suggestion that the two handles represent the judgment of death and damnation. That symbolism echoes Milton's earlier use of the image of St. Peter's gold and iron keys as fitting the locks on heaven and hell.
Milton next includes a list of flowers that critics continue to discuss, as their meaning is not clear in the context of his poem. Some believe the poem represents a simple exercise in the use of as many poetic techniques as possible. In this section Milton adopts the approach of anthimeria, converting the adjective purple to a verb, describing rain showers that "purple all the ground with vernal flowers." That conversion to an unexpected form also constitutes catachresis. He next begins the catalog of flowers, as seen in lines 143-147:
. . . the rathe Primrose that forsaken dies, The tufted Crow-toe, and pale Jessamine, The white Pink, and the Pansy freakt with jet, The glowing Violet,
The Musk-rose, and the well-attir'd Woodbine, With Cowslips wan that hang the pensive head.
Milton concludes with praise for Lycidas, including the well-known phrase "Look homeward Angel." The speaker bids "woeful Shepherds weep no more," one of many phrases loaded with alliteration, assonance, and consonance. Adopting ANTITHESIS the speaker notes, "So, Lycidas, sunk low, but mounted high," describing heaven's celebration of the shepherd's arrival and his conversion into "the Genius of the shore" to protect others from his fate. Milton draws on the tradition of Virgil, who imagines in his Eclogues Julius Caesar in the guise of Daphnis to be "good" to men below.
Critical reception of Lycidas remains mixed. observant scholars have found multiple weaknesses in the poem. Added to those already noted is Russell Fraser's observation that Milton has not written the "monody," or poem in a single voice, that he claims because a second distinctive voice enters at the poem's conclusion. A seemingly disapproving voice tells us, "Thus sang the uncouth swain," suggesting Milton's dismissive evaluation of his own voice. Fraser's suggestion that Milton remains a poet "still at odds" with his own material may account for the uneven presentation others have observed.
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