When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
Patience, great ambition, humility. Christian resignation like a blind Homer
, John Milton must have been deeply troubled by the disparity between fact and promise in his career. Many thought his prophetic poems based on his visions in his dreams as evidence that he was quite mad. However, time has judged him a genius in many respects for his novel use of biblical and mythological allusions
He had keen sympathy with ideal aspirations, together with an occasional sense of their fruitlessness. This sonnet was published circa 1673 and as the title explains, his blindness was nearly complete . In a letter dated 1654 he refers to a very faint susceptibility to light still remaining to him. He likens his own talent the parable of the talent in Matthew 25:14-30. Here he has defined it as a measure of weight and hence of value; there is here, of course, a play on the word in its modern sense of his mental gift, in Milton's case his gift of poetry.
He never would realize the fact that his death would come to reveal the great English epic he did write in Paradise Lost. The phrase They also serve who only stand and wait. is familiar one; Milton would like his readers to understand how Patience, the Muses, or the Holy Spirit eventually reward the faithful steward.
John Milton came to be a dangerous man. It was his ability to express his strong views with words that was the most threatening. When he was making highly unpopular declarations -- about the regicide, divorce, or press licensing, -- his words gained such life that they still resonate hundreds of years later.
This had to have been a shattering adversity to such a powerful man. As he began to lose his vision faith was his consolation. How he expressed that consolation still is powerfully clear. At the Restoration of King Charles II, the threat posed by even the ailing and blind was perceived, Milton was on the short list of Commonwealth men to be executed and was put into prison. After a fine that took most of his livelihood he was released. Now poor and blind Milton still managed to write in his remaining years. Not only did he write Paradise Lost, (a must read book every four years) he also wrote Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes.
Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Milton, John", Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.
Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:
RPO -- John Milton : Sonnet XIX: When I Consider How my Light is spent: