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Who Would Not Sing for Lycidas?

March 23rd, 2008

“Will you not tell it today?”

(Jesse Browns Pounds, Will You Not Tell It Today?, 1887)

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord”

(2 Timothy 1:8)

Milton wrote “Lycidas” in 1637. The poem contains an event that would forever change him. Edward King, for whom the poem is about, was Milton’s learned friend who had drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas. “Lycidas” has been called the high-water mark of English poetry in the form of elegy—the lament and praise for the dead. In. the first portion of the poem, Milton memorializes his dead schoolfellow. Then, in each of the three movements thereafter we find a pagan lament beginning each section, and a Christian triumph. ending these sections. Line 10 reads: “Who would not sing for Lycidas?” John Milton had a Christian heart; a Christian friend; and, now, a Christian sadness coupled with hope.

This English poem calls to mind our own allegiance to the Lord Jesus. The gospel, itself, is both a lament and a triumph. The apostle Paul reminds us regarding the communion—“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). This theme of lament and triumph is also contained in an early Christian hymn of 1 Timothy 3:16: “He was manifested in the flesh, / vindicated by the Spirit, / seen by angels, / proclaimed among the nations, / believed on in the world, / taken up in glory.”

Who would not sing for Jesus? Will you not tell it today?

-Robert M. Housby