On His Blindness By John Milton (Summary & Analysis)

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
Lodged 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-labor, 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

Summary of “On His Blindness”

This sonnet gives expression to a conflict in the poet’s mind at a critical moment in his life. On the one hand, he had the ambition of a great poem, and on the other fate had made him blind. The question arose whether as a blind man he would be able to use the great poetic powers God had endowed him with and thus fulfill the destiny for which God had chosen him. For a moment he is to think that God cannot be so cruel as to exact work from a blind man. (On His Blindness)

But patience comes to his help and teaches him submission to the will of God. This conflict is resolved by the poet’s submission to the will of God. This implies recovery after a period of unusual loneliness. He submits to his blindness and will be able, if he is the will of God, to perform his great task in spite of this drawback.

Notes and Meanings

Consider: think; Light: in Milton days it was supposed that there was a light (a stock of light) in the eyes of a person by which he could see; Spent: it was also supposed that the light (or stock of light) was slowly and steadily used up while one goes on seeing things in his life. As a result, when the light (or stock of light) was all used up or spent, a person became blind. Ere: before (the word is not in use now): Half my. days: Milton became blind when he was 45. In those days the normal age of a  man was supposed to be 100 as an ideal; Dark . . . wide: the world is not dark; the eyes of the poet have become dark –and the world is the same big world which it use to be in the days of his eyesight ; (On His Blindness)

One talent: the capability gifted by God almighty, i.e., poetry for Milton; Hide: to put in a secret place; Lodged … useless: the capability or the gift of poetry would remain unused by the poet because he has become blind; Soul …bent: the poet is very obedient to Almighty God; Maker: Creator, God Present … account: give a detailed account of all my worldly doings to God; Chide;  rebuke;

Exact: take; Doth …denied: can God ask not doing that work for which he had not given facilities? That is the question which comes in the mind of the poet again and again; Fondly: with eagerness; Patience: peace contentment; Prevent; stop; Murmur; grumbling; Mild yoke: a tender work; Kingly: like kings; Bidding: order; Speed: go here and there; Ocean: sea; Thousands, at …and wait: there are numberless angles working according to the order of God Almighty. Some of them are roaming about in the world in obedience to his order. The real thing is obedience-not work. (On His Blindness)

Explanation

Either man………. Wait: John Milton in his sonnet “On his blindness” broods over the calamity that fell upon him when he went completely blind at the age of forty-five. He thinks that on the one hand he was gifted to produce a great poem and on the other, he had his sight which meant a hindrance in the way of his task.

A conflict arises in his mind and he utters a mild grumble against God. But patience comes to his help and brings him the glory of God. He pictures God as the Supreme Being who does require the men to help Him or to use the gift that He has given them.

The best way for man to serve God is perfect submission to his will. The Law of God is mild and to follow it is the best service. The power of God is like that of the ruler of this universe. He has numberless servants whom we may call angels and these servants are infinity more powerful than man. At the order of God, these angels can run over the entire universe without taking a rest. For man, the best service lies in taking his stand on the law of God and waiting for what befalls the state of perfect obedience and complete submission.

Appreciation

Wordsworth said that the sonnet in Milton’s hand becomes a trumpet whence he blew soul-animating strains. This sonnet is a typical expression of the quality hinted at by Wordsworth. Milton’s dignified learned and restrained manner displays here a really soul-animating power that expresses perfectly the mood which inspires the sonnet. His imagination goes to the Bible, to the image of Patience, and to the angle performing the task imposed on them by God. The sonnet is the original Italian form (abba, cde , cde) as against the modified English form of the ancient practice. But the power of his sweeping genius and of the mood impelling it is too great to be controlled by the law of the sonnet requiring a break after the eight lines so that the whole sonnet is just one continued strain of powerful music.

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