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Literature in British

In: English and Literature

Submitted By swetarc
Words 4418
Pages 18
Lola Bunny
Dr. Michael
English 2301.01
10 December 2002
Negotiating Death Now and Later: Humanism, Eternity, and Milton's "Two-Handed Engine" Lines 108-131 of "Lycidas" have been disputed for over three centuries, and the debate over the meaning of Milton's "two-handed engine" is still far from over. 1 I join here the seemingly illimitable number of readers who propose a solution to lines 130-131, and I argue that we need go no further than the poem itself to discover that Milton has in mind the Pilot's keys. My aim will be, first, to foreground the combined Christian and humanistic feature which informs the unity of the work. Then I propose a clear identification of the speaker in the passage. A number of unsatisfactory interpretations begin with a misunderstanding of who the "dread voice" really is, and smoking him out will, I hope, enable us to derive from Milton's other poetry and prose the most likely meaning he would have attached, within the context of the poem, to a "two-handed engine." The Pilot of the Gallilean Lake passage is, after all, a series of lines whose context begs to be situated; it deliberately invites a close reading of its structure. Even so, we shall see that the passage does not at all cloak itself in mystery. The reason for the sudden appearance of the disruptive "dread voice," coming as it does about three-fourths of the way into a pastoral elegy, has occupied critics who struggle to account for the unity of the poem. Cleanth Brooks and John Edward Hardy, for example, consider the Pilot's speech an interruption of the already tenuous atmosphere of bucolic hope in a poem which tries to come to terms with death: "Though the speech as a whole praises Lycidas in terms of the larger theme, it makes his death even more meaningless. The good shepherd has been taken, the wicked remain" (152). Brooks and Hardy suggest…...

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