When I Consider How my Light is Spent ( On His Blindness)

About the Poet

John Milton (1608-1674), one of the greatest authors of the English language, is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667). Milton was born in London , England. His father , John Milton, the elder, rose to prosperity as a scrivener or law writer, and his mother, Sarah Jeffrey, was a deeply religious person. Milton ‘s strong, rhetorical prose and the eloquence of his poetry had an immense influence , particularly on the verse of the 18th century. In addition to poetry, Milton wrote pamphlets promoting civil and religious rights. His strategy stirred up much debate. Milton ‘s ideas have deeply inspired Romantic poets in particular, William Blake and P.B. Shelley, guy. Milton wrote 19 sonnets in English, some of them personal, some of them political. He was the first notable English writer to discuss topics other than love in his sonnets. He adopted the Petrarcan Sonnet form. Milton devoted his poetry to explain to man the ways of God.

About the Poem

Milton’s sight had been long threatened before it was finally extinguished. In a letter to the Greek Philaras, the agent in London of the Duke of Parma, dated September 1654, Milton says it was ten years, more or less, since he had first found his eyes failing. The blindness had become total probably about March 1652, in which month Weckherlin was appointed by the Council of State to assist Milton as secretary. The calamity was precipitated by his persistence in writing his Defension pro populo Anglicano contra Salmasium, though warned by his physician of the consequences. The reader will observe that in the present lament, Milton does not bewail his own privation, but insists wholly on the wreck of the heaven-appointed task to which he considered himself called and set apart.

‘My often thought is,’ he writes to Philaras, 1654, ‘that since to all of us are decreed many days of darkness, as saith the Wise Man, Eccles. 11, 8, my dark thus far, by the singular favour of Providence, hath been much tolerable than that dark of the grave, passed as it hath been amid leisure and study, cheered by the visits and conversation of friends.’

Summary of The Sonnet

John Milton’s sonnet 19, “When I Consider How my Light is Spent” is a Petrarchan sonnet. It is a deeply personal poem which explores Milton’s feelings, fears and doubts regarding his blindness and his rationalization of this fear by seeking solutions in his faith.

Milton became totally blind in 1651, at the age of forty-three. A deeply religious person, Milton was greatly disturbed by the loss of his sight at an early age. The concepts of humility and patience are given memorable expression in this poem. In the first quatrain, the speaker expresses his concern that he is going blind and worries that his “one Talent,” his creative ability, would be hampered by his blindness.

In the octave, the poet expresses his frustration that his ‘light’, or vision, has been used up before he reached middle age. In the sestet, this feeling of disappointment and distress softens into an acceptance of his plight as he becomes conscious of the true nature of God. He realizes that God does not place unreasonable demands upon His subjects. God is not to be conceived of as a taskmaster,demanding work from His creations whether or not they have the physical capability to make full use of their talents. Perhaps he can actually serve God best by patiently bearing the burden of blindness that has been placed upon him.

Others may strive to prove their worth as they “at his bidding speed and post o’er land and ocean without rest”. In fact, his service to God is in patiently bearing the burden (his blindness) that has been placed upon him for, the truth is that “They also serve who only stand and wait”.

Theme of the Poem

In this sonnet, the speaker meditates on the fact that he was blind (Milton himself was blind when he wrote this). He shares his indignation that his condition prohibits him from serving God as much as he wishes to. He’s replied by “Patience,” who tells him that God has a lot of people who rush to do their bidding and just don’t need a man’s job. Rather, what is prized is the capacity to endure the “mild yoke” of God, to accept whatever God demands, diligently and without complaint. As the iconic last line summarises, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

This poem provides a carefully reasoned argument for the recognition of physical disability, based on the Christian religion. The speaker discovers that his blindness is a part of the work, rather than being an obstacle to his completion of God’s work for him, and that his achievement lies in dealing with it patiently. (After becoming blind, Milton himself went on to compose his twelve-book epic poem, “Paradise Lost.”

Sonnet 19 Or When I Consider How my Light is Spent – Summary, Themes and Questions

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