“On His Blindness” by John Milton
lodged – stuck
chide – reprimand, scold
yoke – burden
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.
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.