“On His Blindness” is a sonnet by the English poet John Milton, written around 1655. The poem, also known as “Sonnet 19” or “When I Consider How My Light is Spent,” explores the poet’s struggle with his loss of sight and his continued desire to serve God through his writing. Here is the full text of the poem:
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-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.”
In “On His Blindness,” Milton grapples with his feelings of frustration and despair over losing his sight, fearing that he can no longer effectively serve God through his creative talents. The poem’s conclusion, with the line “They also serve who only stand and wait,” offers a message of hope and patience, suggesting that God values faithfulness and devotion even in the face of adversity and limitations.
“On His Blindness” is a deeply personal and introspective work that showcases John Milton’s exceptional mastery of language and form. The poem, written in iambic pentameter, follows the structure of a Petrarchan sonnet, which is divided into an octave (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the final six lines). The octave and sestet often present contrasting ideas or emotions, with the sestet offering a resolution or insight to the issue raised in the octave.
The Octave: Struggle and Questioning
In the octave, Milton reflects upon his blindness, considering the loss of his “light” or sight, which he believes renders him unable to fully utilize his God-given talent for writing. He expresses a deep sense of frustration and despair, fearing that he may disappoint God by not fulfilling his potential. He also questions whether it is fair for God to expect him to continue working when he has been deprived of the ability to see.
The Sestet: Revelation and Acceptance
The sestet provides a shift in tone and perspective, as Milton receives a response to his questioning through the voice of Patience. Patience gently reminds him that God does not require or depend on human efforts or gifts to maintain His divine power. Instead, God values the obedience and faithfulness of those who willingly submit to His will, even when faced with adversity or limitations.
The poem’s concluding lines emphasize that there are different ways to serve God and that those who “stand and wait” in quiet devotion are also fulfilling their purpose. This realization provides Milton with a sense of comfort and acceptance, as he understands that his worth is not solely determined by his ability to write.
The Significance of “On His Blindness”
“On His Blindness” is a powerful and enduring testament to Milton’s ability to explore complex themes and emotions through the concise and structured form of the sonnet. The poem’s exploration of personal struggle, faith, and the search for meaning in the face of adversity resonates with readers across generations, making it a timeless work of art.
Moreover, the poem highlights the importance of humility, patience, and steadfast devotion in one’s relationship with God. It serves as a reminder that true service to a higher power is not necessarily about grand gestures or accomplishments but rather about the willingness to remain faithful and devoted despite the challenges and uncertainties of life.
In summary, “On His Blindness” is a deeply moving and introspective work that showcases John Milton’s exceptional skill as a poet and his ability to convey profound emotions and insights through the structured form of the sonnet. The poem’s exploration of personal struggle, faith, and acceptance in the face of adversity has made it an enduring and universally relatable work of literature.