Having written other poems before, the poet would gather a laurel wreath to honour his dead friend. "The Sisters of the Sacred well",refer to the Nine Muses of Greek Mythology whose home was the Pierian Spring near Mount Olympus (the seat of Jove). Using his 'destined urn' as a figure of death, Milton expresses the hope that on his death some poetic tribute may be paid to him. The 'Satyrs' and the 'Fauns' are the minor wood-deities of Greek Mythology, here probably alluding to Milton's fellow students. ' Damoetas' is the stock name for an older, philosophical shepherd, possibly alluding to a college tutor.
The 'Druids', including the Celtic priests represent here as having been bardic singers. Mona is the old Roman name for the Isle of Man and Deva is the ancient name of the River Dee in North Wales; that is powerful in it's control of Wales; which is not to be confused with the Scottish river bearing the same name. Calliope, the Muse of Heroic poetry, could not save her musician son from being torn to pieces by the Thracian women. The Latter was maddened by his laments for his dead wife Eurydice and cast his dismembered corpse into the river Hebrus, which floated into the Isle of Lesbos.
What is to be gained by writing poetry or compose a poem that goes unrewarded? Amaryllis and Neaera's are exempellary shepherdesses who stood to the last weakness which the noble mind conquer. 'The blind fury' of the Greek mythology where Atnopos was one of the three Fates who cut the thread of life. Milton calls her blind as she does not discriminate, and a Fury because of the malignant nature of her function. To touch his trembling ears was a symbolic act as the ear was regarded as the seat of memory. The glittering foil was only the tinsel and cheap showy things.
'Arethuse' in the Greek mythology where the river Alpheus pursued the nymph Anethusa under land and sea until they merged in the fountain at Ortygia near Sicily, which took her name. 'Mincius' is a river near Mantua in Italy; the birth place of Virgil who sang of the stream. The 'Herald of the sea' is referred to the Sea-God Triton of Greek mythology, represented in art as blowing on a conch shell; hence the epithet 'herald'. 'Neptune' in Greek mythology is the principal sea god and 'Hippotades' is the god of the winds who is also known as Aelus. Sleek Panope played with the 'Nereid' sisters who are the daughters of another sea-god Nereus.
Any work done during an eclipse was regarded as ill-omened. Camus was the god of the river Cam which flows past Cambrigde. The 'sanguine flower' refers to the hyacinth, supposed in a Greek myth to have sprung from the blood Hyacinthus, a youth accidentally killed by Apollo. The markings on the petals resemble the Greek word 'alai'(alas). 'The Pilot of the Galilean Lake' refers to St. Peter, a disciple of Jesus Christ. Here Milton begins his condemnation of the corrupt clergy and the Anglican church, and predicts their ruin.
As first 'Bishop of Rome' he wore the official headdress of the Bishop and is believed to have held the keys to the gates of Heaven. 'The Blind mouths' are a highly compressed and figurative expression for the clergy who were blind to all but their own greed. The 'scrannel pipes'are the entire figure of the pastoral song which is harsh and unmelodious; the allusion of course are to the thin and empty sermons of the uninspired clergy. This includes shallow sermons and destructive doctrines.
The 'two-handed engine is refferred to the sword of justice, as described by several critics, the 'axe laid unto the root of trees which bringeth not good fruit' (Mathew 3:10); and the two houses of Parliament. Of these agencies agencies the latter were more effective in overthrowing the corrupt clergy. 'With false surmise' and imagining that the body of Lycidas is really present and not floating 'upon his watery bier'. The name 'Bellerus' is coined by Milton from Bellarium, the Roman name for Land's End. Near this Land's End is St. Michael's Mount, A rocky island supposedly guarded by the Archangel Michael.
An allusion to the Greek legend of the rescue of the bard Arion by dolphins, when he was cast overboard by sailors. The 'nuptial song' would be sung for the marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7); the lines which follow are suggested by St. John's description of heavenly city in Revelation. Milton ends this poem in a some what obscure allusion to his plans for writing other types of poetry.