The twenty-line passage following the reflection on King’s departure (64-84) is a disquisition on the function, practice and status of poetry. Fame (70) would be the spur to poetic distinction. Those who do not wish to “meditate the thankless Muse” (66), that is, write serious poetry, can “sport with Amaryllis” (68).
Amaryllis was the young woman praised by “Virgil’s poet-swain Tityrus and for contemporary readers the reference would have evoked the ongoing Metaphysical tradition of amatory verse which, Milton implies, is a diversion” (Danielson 45). Lines 85-102 constitute a section that is both cohesive and transitional. In the former respect it centralizes and emphasizes a theme which features throughout the poem, water. Here the water, in which Lycidas drowned, the sea, is contrasted with the constantly mobile rivers, specifically the stream of “Arethuse” (85) and the “Mincius” (86), Virgil’s native river (Danielson 54-55).
It is the “Camus”, which flows past the ancient colleges of Cambridge, and it opens the passage (103-31) which is the most debated and problematical of the entire poem (Honigman 67). Cambridge has already been introduced as the intellectual home of King and Milton and it is generally accepted that Milton takes the reader there a second time in order to address a particular religious-political agenda. Suddenly we are introduced to “the pilot of the Galilean lake” (109) who bears “Two massy keys … of metal twain”. The pilot is assumed to be St. Peter, to whom Christ gave the symbolic keys of the true Church (Honigman 69-70). This image is much debated, and the most widely accepted interpretation comes from John Ruskin. Ruskin commented that a “Bishop” means “a person who sees” (Qtd in Patterson 78). A “Pastor means a person who feeds” and went on to interpret Milton’s “Blind mouths” as referring to the higher clergy of the Laudian church, who deserved neither the title of bishop, since they had blinded themselves to Christian truth, nor the term pastor since they were greedy and corrupt (Qtd in Patterson 79).
The next 12 lines (119-31) avoid specific reference either to religion or to individual practitioners of it – Christopher Hill, a well-known critic, points out that “Critics who complain of Milton’s obscurity here forget the censorship” (51). All interpreters of the poem agree that the section is a condemnation of the Laudian, Anglican Church. Pastors here are not the shepherd-priests who would care for their flock, but corrupt “hedonists more concerned with the ‘lean and flashy songs’ of high ceremony” (Hill 52).
The remainder of the poem returns us to pastoral figures and images, the most notable being that of Lycidas, “Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor,” (16) transmuted to another realm of existence, “mounted high”, and united with “the dear might of him (Christ) that walked the waves” (173). This enables Milton to integrate the contrasting images of sea and freshwater which inform the poem. Lycidas is now with “other groves and other streams” (174) which “With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves” (174). Lycidas can in these wash from his hair the oozy, salty memory of his drowning at sea. Milton finishes his celebration-remembrance of King with Lycidas as “the genius of the shore” (187),
As opposed to “Lycidas”, which was written to praise King Edward, Milton’s attachment to the family is celebrated in his poem “Arcades”. In this work, the Duchess is presented as the matriarch of a rural paradise in which the arts flourish (Danielson 89-93). In June 1631 the Earl of Bridgewater, the Countess’s son-in-law, was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Wales, and Lawes and Milton decided to collaborate in the writing of a masque (a dramatic entertainment involving verse, music, dancing and scenic effect) to celebrate this (Danielson 89-93). Lawes wrote the music for the song parts, and the words, sung and spoken, were Milton’s (Danielson 89-93)