On His Blindness


Summary of the poem

The Sonnet On His Blindness is one of the popular and best-known poems composed by Milton. This sonnet deals with the sublime theme represented in a grand style by the use of plain language. The sonnet is composed in Petrarchan style, consisting of an octave and a sestet with a rhyme scheme abba/abba/cde/cde. While there is a change of the case after the octave, the octave and the sestet are not divided. The sonnet varies from the Petrarchan sonnet in the way that Petrarchan sonnet deals with the issue of love, whereas this sonnet deals with the moral question. Milton’s eyesight began to fade in 1644, and in 1652, when he was 44 years old, he became completely blind.

The poem was composed in 1655 when he was not accustomed to his loss and reconciled. Thus, this autobiographical 19th sonnet of Milton offers a snapshot of his anguish and disappointment at losing his eyesight when he was middle-aged. He considers the life, the colour and the intellect he has lost or expended before becoming blind. He thinks God has conferred on him the greatest talent, that is, poetic genius. He demonstrates his greatest desire to please God by making use of the fullest capacity that God has given him. Unfortunately, because of his illness, he is unable to satisfy his dream to write the greatest epic and the greatest poetry due to his disability.

Milton thinks God might be scolding him for not using his skills. Milton wonders whether Jesus, the Omnipotent, wants the service of man. Why did God strip away the light from his eyes because God wanted man to serve him? If God had wanted some service from him, He should not have taken his eyesight away. Being blind, he wonders if he will be able to create fantastic works. Before he gets irritated Patience arrives with the clarification that God never wants the service of man. Whoever is patiently prepared to bear the burden of life has served God the best. God has servants in the universe who serve Him all the way over the land and the seas, without any break.

For God, those people who are handicapped and who can not serve Him like others do may stand and wait peacefully and therefore obey God. He knows God will never be wrong. God does not require the service of man, nor does he strip away the gifts which He has conferred upon him. He is the ultimate entity, omnipresent, Creator, of the whole world, and has innumerable servants. In fact, all men who bear all the thorns of life without confronting God serve him the most.

The poem explains the philosophy of life used by Milton. It teaches us of a man who has committed himself to God entirely. Here is a man of deep and unwavering confidence. The poem portrays a man who faces his lack of eyesight with immense strength and bravery and trusts strongly in God’s will. The poem has got a sublime theme written in a grand yet simple form.


Analysis of On His Blindness


This is one of the finest Sonnets of John Milton. It indicates the personal sorrow and faith of the poet. In 1652, when the blindness overtook him, he felt wonderful ache due to it. For that reason its miles a moving and heart-rending personal sonnet. It offers his struggling at the early blindness, his experience of task in lifestyles and his unshakable religion with God and faith. This sonnet is written as a result of Milton’s grief, as he misplaced his eyesight at his middle age. Milton’s eyesight became weak from his early teens. In a prose pamphlet, he describes, ‘I by no means extinguished my lamp earlier than the middle of the night’ and factors his closing blindness to the stress placed upon his eyes. Inside the verses of wood who knew Milton thoroughly: ‘It became uncommon with him to sit up straight until middle of the night at his books, which was the first factor that brought his eyes into the chance of blindness.’

The exact date of composition of the sonnet isn’t known. Milton has become absolutely blind in 1652.

This sonnet—written within the ‘Petrarchan’ rhyme theme relating to the fourteenth-century Italian writer Francesco Petrarca—is split into eight-line ‘octave’ and a six-line ‘sestet’. The octave rhymes a/b/b/a/a/b/b/a. The sestet rhymes c/d/e/c/d/e. Thus, the sonnet is a typical Petrarchan sonnet in form. Petrarch, the English version of Petrarca’s name was famous for writing about love. Milton proceeds from that conventional topic to deal with a very practical problem with many broader spiritual implications.

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The idea of losing one’s sight is clearly a deeply troubling one. Suddenly, the blind person is at risk in all kinds of ways. The speaker in the poem feels vulnerable; he can no longer see his own way. The tragedy with the speaker in this poem is that he has lost his sight at an early stage of life. He now inhabits a world that seems ‘dark’ (2) in at least two senses: it is no longer physically visible, and it is a world full of sin and spiritual darkness. The world, moreover, is not only dark but also ‘wide’: the speaker will somehow have to navigate, both literally and figuratively, in a world which, because of its width or breadth, will prose many dangers.

Milton becomes rather impatient on the thought of his blindness. He is blind within the middle age. Blindness prevents him from the usage of his poetic expertise by means of writing something high-quality to glorify God. He has a keen choice to serve God with the aid of the use of his poetic skills. Milton fears that his blindness will prevent him from doing God’s work.

Milton’s mindset of doubt passes off in a moment. His inner judgment of right and wrong rises up with his faith in God’s justice. He realizes that God does no longer need man’s work by using the way of service to him; nor does he care whether or not guy uses His presents.


Explain with Reference to the Context:


Stanza – 1

When I consider ……………….. returning chide.

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘On His Blindness’ written John Milton. It was written in 1655 three years after Milton became completely blind. This sonnet is marked by a brooding sense of despondency arising out of his blindness. He feels sad that he will not be able to serve the God with his talent of writing poetry

Explanation :-

In this poem Milton is very unhappy and feels sad because he became completely blind when he was in his forty-fourth year. He is left alone in this dark and vast world and this condition intensifies a blind man’s feeling of helplessness. God had given him the talent of writing poetry. But this gift is lying useless with him as God has made him blind. He feels that it is like soul killing for him to hide his talent of writing poetry. He is ready to serve God with his talent and present his true account. But he feels unable to do so due to his blindness. He fears that God will rebuke him for not using this gift. Thus these lines show Milton’s lament on his untimely loss of sight.


Stanza 2.

Doth God………………………. They serve him best.

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken Milton’s sonnet ‘On His Blindness’. Here the poet is expressing his unhappiness and sadness at the loss of his eye-sight and laments that the best part of his life would go waste without producing any work of creative importance.

Explanation :-

Milton is very sad at the loss of his eye-sight. He grumbles and in helpless anguish asks foolishly whether God could be so unjust as to expect active service even from a blind man. But then poet’s patience consoles his needling anguish. It tells him god is the master of this universe and he does not need either man’s work or the return of his gifts. Countless angels are engaged in God’s active service and carry our his orders submissively all over the world. Those who patiently bear the duties given by God are his true servants. These lines show Milton’s undiminished faith in God and his ways or Justice.


Stanza 3.

His state………………………..only stand and wait

Reference to Context:

These lines quoted above have been taken from the sonnet ‘On His Blindness’ written by Milton. In this poem the poet expresses his sadness at his blindness. He grumbles against God. But his patience and unshaken faith in Gods justice consoles him.

Explanation :-

Milton’s patience calms him and tells him that God is the benign creator of the universe. He does not need man’s work. God is like a great king. Thousands of angels are at his service. They rush over land and ocean without rest in order to carryout his commands. But some angels do not work. They stand and only wait for his orders. They are also his best servant. He is consoled by the realisation that God is best served not through worldly attainments but through sincere devotion. At the end of the poem the poet signifies patience, devotion and submission to God by mentioning the phrase ‘stand and wait’.

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Essay Type Questions


Q.1. Comment on the two different moode of the poets as revealed by the sonnet.

Ans.: “On His Blindness is a sonnet written by John Milton, an acclaimed seventeenth century English poet. As a sonneteer, Milton widened the range of the sonnet and revived the classical or the Petrarchan sonnet from, falling into parts: the first, an octave (eight lines) rhyming abba abba, reveals the poet’s fears and complaints; and the second, a sestet (six lines) rhyming cde cde, teaches us total submission to God’s design.

This poem was written in 1655; three years after Milton become completely blind, and is marked by a brooding sense of despondency arising out of his blindness. It was written when Milton was in his forty-fourth year. The poem can be divided into two parts. In the first half of the poem, he expresses his sadness at the loss of his eye-sight. He finds himself alone in this dark and wide world. God has given him the talent of writing poetry. This gift is lying useless within. He is expressing his unhappiness about the fact that the best part of his life would go waste without producing any work of creative importance. It is like death for him to hide his talent. He fears that God will rebuke him for not using his talent because he wants to serve God with this gift. He grumbles against God and he, thus, raises the question of the justness of God’s ways to man in relation to his own loss of sight. He foolishly asks himself whether God demands work from him although the God has made him blind. Thus the first half of the poem reflects the poet’s mood of sadness and murmuring.

However, the second part of the poem expresses Milton’s feeling of resignation and his undiminished faith in God’s justice. He accepts total submission to the will of God. The poet’s inner faith consoles him and stops his murmur. He realises that God does not need anyone’s praise or work. Those who bear the duties given by God serve him best. God only wants complete faith in him. Those who patiently serve God and wait for his orders are also his true servants. The sonnet teaches us to be content with our lot in life and also that it is man’s duty to stand in readiness to serve God without any complaint or protest.

Q.2. How does the poet justify the ways of God to man in the sonnet “On His Blindness”?

Ans.: This poem teaches us that we should have complete faith in the ways of God. The poet expresses this idea through his personal experience. He became completely blind when he was in forty-fourth year. He got the feeling of helplessness and a sense of despondency arising out of his blindness. In a better mood, Milton is inclined to think of God as a hard taskmaster. He feels that God will rebuke him for not using his gift of writing poetry. He grumbles against God for making him blind.

But then Milton gets a feeling of resignation and complete faith in God’s justice. He accepts total submission to the will of God. His inner faith consoles him. It tells him that God does not need man’s work. Nor does he want the return of his own gifts.

Those who accept God’s will are his true servants. God is like a great king. Thousand of angles are busy in carrying out his orders. But those are also his best servants who only stand and wait for his orders.

Thus the sonnet teaches and justifies the ways of God to man and conveys the moral idea that we should accept God’s will cheerfully. The poet is consoled by the realisation that God is best served not through worldly attainments but through sincere devotion. In the end the poet signifies patience, devotion and submission of God.

Q.3. Does optimism of the last two lines naturally evolve out of the poem?

Ans.: John Milton was a religious poet. His poem “On His Blindness” also contains a moral. It teaches us to have complete and unshaken trust in God. The real service of God is to have complete faith in him. God is like a great king, the master of universe. Countless angles are engaged in God’s active service and carry out his orders submissively all over the world. They rush over land and ocean without rest in order to carry out his orders. But some angels do not work. They just stand near his throne and wait for his orders. They are also ready to obey his orders. Readiness to do some work is as good as actually doing it. Milton believes that those who have patience, complete devotion, and submission in the ways of God are also as good as those who are actually serving him.

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Thus we see that the optimism of the last two lines develops naturally out of the poem. The poet believes that standing in readiness to serve God without any complaint or protest is as good actually serving God.


Question-Answer (Short Type)


Q.1. How does Milton regret the loss of his ‘light’?

Ans.: Milton had become completely blind in the middle of his life. God had given him one precious talent, the talent of writing poetry. But this talent is now lying useless with him. It is like death for him to hide his talent and he fears that God will rebuke him for not using this gift of writing poetry. But then a doubt enters his mind. He foolishly murmurs whether God accepts work from a man whom he has made blind. He finds himself alone in this dark and wide world it intensifies a blind man’s feeling of helplessness.

Q.2. Describe the Italians sonnet and state whether the sonnet “On His Blindness” follows the Italian pattern or not?

Ans.: A sonnet is a lyrics poem written in a single stanza, which consists of fourteen iambic pentameter lines linked by an intricate rhyme scheme. They sonnet is written in the Italian/Petrarchan form, falling in two parts. The first part of eight lines is called an octave (8 lines) and the next part of six lines is called sestet. The rhyme scheme of the octave is abba abba and reveals the poet’s fears and complaints. The second, a sestet is having the rhyme pattern of cde cde and teaches us total submission of God is design.

Q.3. How does Patience forestall the poet’s anguish?

Ans.: Milton’s undiminished faith in God’s justice consoles raised doubts. It tells him that God is like a great king, the master of the universe. Countless angels are engaged in God’s active service and carry out his orders submissively all over the world. Patience silences the poet’s needling anguish. God being the begin creator of universe, does not need man’s work, nor does he need a return for his own gifts. God is a kind master. Those persons who submit to the will of God are his best servants.

Q. 4. State examples of metaphor and personification in the poem.

Ans.: The poet uses a number of metaphors. Here “light” stand for the poet’s eyesight which he has lost in the middle of his life. The ‘maker’ is the almighty God. The ‘mild yoke’ implies the gentle control of God that demands is no more than obedience and a desire to serve him. The poet also makes the use of personification in the poem. He personifies patience. Here patience silences the poet’s needling anguish and consoles the poet.

Extra Questions and Answers

1. What is the speaker of this poem bothered by when he considers his state of blindness?
He wonders whether he will be able to effectively do “day labour, light denied.” In other words, he wonders whether he will be able to do the Lord’s work without the ability to see.

2. Before he thinks to ask the Lord whether he is still a worthy servant, he answers the question himself. What is his answer?
The speaker recalls that God does not need men to work for Him or give Him gifts. God wants most of all for man to “Bear his mild yoke.” He realizes that thousands of people are ready to answer God’s call. Within those thousands are people who can see, and so accomplish difficult tasks, but there are also those who “only stand and wait.”

3. What is the rhyme scheme of the poem? What type of poem is it?
The poem is written in the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet form of A/B/B/A A/B/B/A C/D/E C/D/E.

4. What does Patience offer as a reply to the speaker’s questioning?
Patience describes God as one who understands and rewards those who use the gifts they have to serve. Patience also refers to a belief that is the quality of talent, not the talent itself, that is most important in the eyes of God.

    1. What does Milton realize at the end of the poem, On His Blindness after a
      brief moment of anxiety over not being able to serve God? Mention the lines.
  1. In the end of the poem On His Blindness Milton realizes that

“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask; but Patience, to prevent
That murmer, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work, or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest.

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

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