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29 August 2014

Limits of Autodidacticism I've been reading various classic texts lately, guided mostly by stumbling upon titles while reading literary essays and other criticism. So I sent Milton's Lycidas (wikipedia link) to my Kindle[More:]

And got very puzzled as he talked about being a shepherd. I figure, well, he's just talking from a shepherd's point of view. And later (after I gave up reading halfway through) I looked on wikipedia and realized that the whole thing is a METAPHOR!

The poem itself begins with a pastoral image of laurels and myrtles, “symbols of poetic fame; as their berries are not yet ripe, the poet is not yet ready to take up his pen.”[5] However, the speaker is so filled with sorrow for the death of Lycidas that he finally begins to write an elegy. "Yet the untimely death of young Lycidas requires equally untimely verses from the poet. Invoking the muses of poetic inspiration, the shepherd-poet takes up the task, partly, he says, in hope that his own death will not go unlamented." [6] The speaker continues by recalling the life of the young shepherds together "in the ‘pastures’ of Cambridge." Milton uses the pastoral idiom to allegorize experiences he and King shared as fellow students at Christ’s College, Cambridge. The university is represented as the “self-same hill” upon which the speaker and Lycidas were “nurst”; their studies are likened to the shepherds’ work of “dr[iving] a field” and “Batt’ning… flocks”; classmates are “Rough satyrs” and “fauns with clov’n heel” and the dramatic and comedic pastimes they pursued are “Rural ditties… / Temper’ed to th’ oaten flute; a Cambridge professor is “old Damoetas [who] lov’d to hear our song.”

That's ridiculous!! He's talking about Cambridge university and his colleague there as a grass field and a fellow shepherd!! *facepalm*

I've been wondering why people put prefaces to classic texts in the beginning of books given that any deep preface (in the sense of a critical essay) would give much of the plot away but now I think it's better to maybe have some plot twists spoiled than not know what you're reading at all. Best way would be to have companion texts I suppose; you read a bit of the original, read commentary on it, then keep going from there...
Best way would be to have companion texts I suppose; you read a bit of the original, read commentary on it, then keep going from there...

That's why I like annotated editions of things that come with them. My annotated Shakespeare is one of the few giant, expensive college textbooks I'll never give up - it rendered entire new layers of meaning available.

posted by Miko 29 August | 18:41
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