skip to main content


Vol.5, Issue 2, 2019, pp.247-267 Full text

Crossmark logo

Web of Science: 000512305100006

Robert Tindol

Affiliation: Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Guangzhou, China

One of the longstanding mysteries of English poetry is the identification of the 'two-handed engine' from John Milton's 1638 poem "Lycidas", with which Saint Peter threatens to "strike once, and strike no more" the clergy who have been remiss in their duties. A new way of looking at the image is to read the entire passage with George Lakoff and Mark Turner's theory of conceptual metaphors in mind. The strength of this approach is to show that identification of the two-handed engine should be considered within the context of the entire poem. As many commentators have argued, Lycidas's posthumous fate as the "genius of the shore" does not rest solely in the actions of Saint Peter, but instead involves a reconciliation that amalgamates elements of both Christianity and the classical world as well as nature. The conceptual metaphor thus provides a single combinatory image.

Keywords: John Milton, Lycidas, George Lakoff, Mark Turner, conceptual metaphor

Article history:
Submitted: 13 December 2019;
Reviewed: 14 December 2019;
Revised: 16 November 2019;
Accepted: 20 December 2019;
Published: 30 December 2019

Citation (APA):
Tindol, R. (2019). Milton's Two-Handed Engine as a Conceptual Metaphor. English Studies at NBU, 5(2), 247-267.

Copyright © 2019 Robert Tindol

This open access article is published and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0), which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. If you want to use the work commercially, you must first get the authors' permission.

Daiches, D. (1961). From A Study of Literature. In C.A. Patrides (Ed.), Milton's Lycidas: The Tradition and the Poem, (pp. 101-119). Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Dobranski, S. (2008). Editing Milton: The Case against Modernisation. Review of English Studies, 59(240), new series, 392-408.

Dorian, D. (1930). Milton's "Two-Handed Engine". PMLA, 45(1), 204-215.

Edwards, M. (2011). The Pilot and the Keys: Milton's Lycidas 167-171. Studies in Philology, 108(4), 605-618.

Fish, S. (1976). Interpreting the "Variorum". Critical Inquiry, 2(3), 465-485.

Flail. (n.d). Retrieved July 31, 2017 from Wikipedia:

Forsythe, N. (2009). "Lycidas": A Wolf in Saint's Clothing. Critical Inquiry 35(3), 684-702.

Frye, N. (1961). Literature as Context: Milton's Lycidas. In C.A. Patrides (Ed.), Milton's Lycidas: The Tradition and the Poem, (pp. 200-211).Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Greteman, B. (2009). "Exactest Proportion": The Iconoclastic and Constitutive Powers of Metaphor in Milton's Prose Tracts. ELH, 76(2), 399-417.

Howard, L. (1952). "That Two-Handed Engine" Once More. Huntington Library Quarterly, 15(2), 173-184.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G., and Turner, M. (1989). More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. University of Chicago Press.

Le Comte, E. (1950). "That Two-Handed Engine" and Savonarola. Studies in Philology, 47(4), 589-606.

Lipking, L. (1996). The Genius of the Shore: Lycidas, Adamastor, and the Poetics of Nationalism. PMLA, 111(2), 205-221.

Matthew 16 (King James Version). (n.d.). Bible Gateway. Retrieved Oct. 25, 2019 from

Milton, J. (1638). Lycidas. Justa Eduardo King Naufrago. Thomas Buck and Roger Daniel.

Milton, J. (1645). Lycidas. Poems of Mr. John Milton. Humphrey Moseley.

Milton, J. (1961). Lycidas. In C.A. Patrides (Ed.), Milton's Lycidas: The Tradition and the Poem, (pp. 1-9).Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Milton, J. (1999). Lycidas. In B. Raffel (Ed.), The Annotated Milton: Complete English Poems, (pp. 122-132). Bantam Dell.

Milton, J. (n.d.). In T. Luxom (Ed.) The John Milton Reading Room. Retrieved July 31, 2017 from []

Patrides, C.A. (1961). Preface. In C.A. Patrides (Ed.), Milton's Lycidas: The Tradition and the Poem, (pp. vi-viii). Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Robins, H. (1954). Milton's 'Two-Handed Engine at the Door' and St. Matthew's Gospel. The Review of English Studies, 5(17), 25-36.

Sansone, D. (2006). How Milton Reads. Modern Philology, 103(3), 332-358.

Scythe. (n.d.). Retrieved July 31, 2017 from Wikipedia

Winnowing. (n.d.). Retrieved July 31, 2017 from Wikipedia

Womack, M. (1997). On the Value of Lycidas. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 37(1), 119-136.


1. Reviewer's name: Tadd Graham Fernée, PhD, New Bulgarian University
Review Verified on Publons
Review Content:
This manuscript presents a very interesting study of John Milton"s 1637 poem "Lycidas", a pastoral elegy dedicated to a Cambridge friend who drowned at sea. The article presents a new analysis of the poem in terms of conceptual metaphor. It reviews both major critical literature on Milton’s "Lycidas" and critical literature on modernist poets such as William Carlos Williams to construct a striking methodological optic. The article thereby analyses the image of the “two-handed engine” held by Saint Peter to infer engaging conclusions about Milton's reconstruction of the 17th century Christian worldview in the years preceding the English Civil War and the writing of "Paradise Lost". The article both forges an original methodology and evokes Milton's radical questions about Christian Theodicy, by amalgamating Classical and modern scientific elements to explain the significance of human suffering against the eternal backdrop of divine justice.

The purpose of the article is clearly stated as to explain how the "two-handed engine" functions as a cognitive metaphor not in isolation but within the metaphoric ensemble of "Lycidas". To this end, the article presents an elaborate but well-articulated concept of metaphor as a spatializing power which organizes fundamental concepts, not merely in literature but in everyday life. Secondly, metaphor, as images of similarity, has a capacity to overcome mental blockages through re-perceiving familiar situations unconventionally. For scholars of Milton, and 17th century intellectual thought (i.e. the proto-Enlightenment of John Locke), with a bearing on the 1649 English Revolution, this article provides much material for reflection in its detailed examination of new visions of human fate and ethics. However, it is primarily a textual study, with little reference to Milton as a republican admirer of the Dutch republican experiment, seeking to impose an oligarchic civic humanism upon English national development.

The methodology is used consistently to analyze how the "two-handed engine" functions within a whole metaphorical interpretation of the poem, as Milton apparently tried to square traditional Christian beliefs and values with the perplexing issues thrown up by 17th century experiences. The methodological approaches are quite abstract, and therefore difficult, but well explained and highly interesting. They serve their purpose in shedding a possible new light on what Milton meant by the "two-handed engine" within the wider significance of the "Lycidas" and his struggle to rethink Christian traditions.

The author advances conclusions suggesting that Milton aspired to the conceptual amalgamation of heaven and earth, with the aim of defining Christian justice in ordinary human affairs. The author's findings suggest that Milton achieved a polyphonic expression of Theodicy that was therefore intrinsically partial. Death had no ultimate meaning from every perspective in Milton's polyphonic symphony, with the Natural Order of the Great Chain of Being yielding to multiple unexplained accidents (as in the death by drowning of his friend Edward King in a shipwreck). The conclusions are well argued from the text, based upon an interesting theoretical device. These conclusions also seem to anticipate many of the core questions of troubled Theodicy that have made "Paradise Lost" such a landmark of modern reflection on human fate and ethics.

2. Reviewer's name: Undisclosed
Review Content: Undisclosed
Review Verified on Publons

Handling Editor: Stan Bogdanov
Verified Editor Record on Publons:

Article Metrics