John Milton was an English poet whose popularity in literature heightened only after he went blind at the beginning of the second half of his life. Milton was born on 9 December 1608 in Bread Stree, London, and died on 8 November 1674 in Bunhill Row, London. He is popular for lyrical poems like “L’allegro” and “II Penseroso,” “Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” etc.
After John Milton went completely blind in 1652, he published his masterpiece Paradise Lost in 1667. For his successors, Milton was a hugely influential poet. For example, William Blake considered himself as the poetical son of John Milton. Milton also wrote sonnets among which “On His Blindness” best represents his life.
On His Blindness by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, 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.”
John Milton’s On His Blindness Summary
In the first half of “On His Blindness,” John Milton asks a question whether God is angry with him. The speaker contemplates the loss of his eyesight and feels bad about not being able to serve God, his Maker. He confesses that he is intent more than ever to make the Almighty happy but he is helpless. Moreover, he fears the consequences he might get as a result of his absence in the service of God. The speaker also wants to know whether his creator denied him light the same day of his creation.
In the second half of “On His Blindness,” his inner Patience replies that God does not need man’s help. Instead, those who bear their fate without complaint are the ones who are loyal to God. Patience, further, argues that God’s state is kingly and he has thousands of servicemen. When God orders, they run without stopping in order to help those who stand and patiently wait.
John Milton’s On His Blindness Analysis
John Milton’s poem “On His Blindness” begins with contemplation of the speaker’s life before and after turning blind. “When I consider how my light is spent/ Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,” means when he thinks of how he lost his eyesight before he had half of his life ahead. It clearly says, Milton spent half of his life in darkness.
Milton makes a metaphoric use when he says “And that one talent, which is death to hide.” Here, ‘talent’ means the ‘ability to see’, and the speaker thinks that losing the vision is no less than death. He says, he is not only blind but the blindness has made him useless as well.
Despite all odds, Milton is determined more than ever to serve his Maker by presenting what God asks of him. “lest he returning chide” shows that the speaker is obviously heartbroken by the loss of vision and for the same reason, he fears the price he might have to pay because he cannot serve his Creator sufficiently. Furthermore, he wants to know if “Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?” It means whether God bestowed him with fate in which he has to spend half of his life in darkness.
The second half of the poem begins with Patience’s reply to Milton’s question. The poet personifies Patience which, in fact, is his own inner-self. Now, we come to know that the speaker has been murmuring so far and Patience wants to “prevent/ That murmur.” It says: “God doth not need/ Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best/ Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.” According to Milton’s Patience, God is omnipotent and self-sufficient who does not need man’s work nor his gifts. Instead, whoever accepts their fate as they come are the best servers of God because it means the acceptance of God’s creation.
Patience also reminds Milton that God’s state is kingly in which “thousands at his bidding speed/ And post o’er land and ocean without rest.” There are thousands who follow God’s order regardless of circumstances and impending results. However, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Patience quickly informs the murmuring speaker that those who patiently wait for help will get their wishes fulfilled. The last line might connotatively mean that the speaker is waiting for his death and he cannot tolerate life any longer. Nevertheless, he finally decides to wait patiently for the arrival of his death after which he might get rid of life’s troubles.
John Milton’s On His Blindness Theme
John Milton poem “On His Blindness” has multiple themes like faith in God, frustration, acceptance, patience, God’s omnipotence, God’s omnipresence, etc.
Despite his blindness and despite the fact that God designed his fate that way, Milton promises to remain faithful to God. He is definitely frustrated with his fate, but he finally accepts his destiny as well. God’s omnipotence and omnipresence are also significant themes of Milton’s poem. We can do nothing to change God’s creation and wherever we are God comes to help us when we seriously need him. Likewise, patience is a highly important theme “On His Blindness” presents. It imparts that we need to wait patiently for the things to happen in our life as per God’s decisions.
John Milton’s On His Blindness Rhyme Scheme, Genre
John Milton’s poem “On His Blindness” is a Petrarchan sonnet in the rhyme scheme. Its rhyming pattern is abba abba cde cde. The poem is divided into an octave and a sestet, the former being with two quatrains while the latter has two stanzas of three lines each. The division, however, is not very clear.
Vocabulary in John Milton’s On His Blindness
- light – eyesight
- ere – before
- talent – ability to see
- bent – determined
- Maker – God
- Patience – inner-self
- murmur – to complain foolishly
- yoke – burden
- bidding – order/ command
- post – rush, travel