Mourning and Melancholia, Lycidas, and Melancholia

John Milton’s Lycidas”, is a pastoral elegy about his deceased friend, Edward King. The speaker laments his friend’s death and goes through several phases of the mourning process. He explains the compulsion to speak, either because of obligation or grief: “Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear, Compels me to disturb your season due.” He also accuses every one of not being there for Lycidas when he needed saving: “Where were ye Nymphs, when the remorseless deep Clos’d o’er the head of your lov’d Lycidas?” The whole world loved Lycidas (“Whom universal nature did lament”), but no one was there to rescue him. Despite the speaker’s perpetual sadness, the end of poem has a hint of hopefulness. With the Saints for company, Lycidas is imagined reborn in heaven. The last stanza, which includes the lines, “And now the sun had stretch’d out all the hills,” and “To-morrow to fresh woods, and pastures new,” finish the poem with a pastoral and positive image.

If we consider Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia,” I would identify “Lycidas” as an experience of mourning. Freud indicates that mourning and melancholia are similar in that a person struggles with the loss of a love-object. While mourning is a normal and necessary process (eventually the person loses its hold on the object and becomes “free and uninhibited again”), melancholia is an abnormal, pathological process that can be very dangerous. In melancholia, the person has no self-regard and is not able to identify what they have actually lost. The speaker in “Lycidas” is mourning, not melancholic, because there is hope at the end. Through his poetry, he comes to terms with reality and detaches himself from his love-object–his friend, “Lycidas.”

This is obviously not on the syllabus, but Melancholia is a movie written and directed by Lars Von Trier that gorgeously depicts the various intricacies of melancholia. This is a pretty solid summary and explanation.






Comparison of a film-still from Melancholia and the Pre-Raphaelite painting by John Milais of Ophelia from Hamlet. “Tragic-romantic-depressive”

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