12 September 2007

Peter Sacks

[from Peter Sacks's "Milton: 'Lycidas'" in The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats, 1985]

What is the real significance and function of Saint Peter's opening words? I do not think that the purpose of his "How well could I have spard thee . . . Enough of such" has been adequately noted. He is making an equation, and it is important in the light of what follows to recognize this as the essential equation of the revenger. One Lycidas is worth enough of such, and it is against that number -- that tally -- that the entire speech unrolls like a single act of vengeance. Here is the controlled release of rage that we have seen to be so crucial to the work of mourning. Once again, it involves the locating of a target for a wrath that must be turned outward; the shifting of the burden of pain; the reversal from the passive suffering of hurt to the active causing of it; and above all, the assumption of the power to hurt, a power that we have studied in its relation to the totemic force associated with a metaphoric sexual immortality.

The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats

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