“To sport with Amaryllis in the shade
Or with the tangles Neaera’s hair?”
The poem moves me each time I read it and leaves me feeling annoyed with Dr. Johnson’s failure to appreciate the poem in his “Life of Milton.” In “Lycidas," he says, “…the diction is harsh, the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing. What beauty there is we must therefore seek in the sentiments and images. It is not to be considered as the effusion of real passion; for passion runs not after remote allusions and obscure opinions.” Johnson dismisses the poem as “a pastoral, easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting.”
Harsh, baffling words that remind us never to dismiss a critic or any writer for a single egregiously faulty lapse in taste. We all nod, even the greatest critic in the language.