Friday, 6 January 2012

John Milton - 'On His Blindness'


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 is best known for Paradise Lost, but this poem is also well known and is certainly my favourite of his works - possibly one of my favourite poems by anyone.

Milton, a poet of the 17th century, found himself completely blind by his late forties; and from the evidence of this poem, sadly frustrated, as this impairment left him very limited. He had to dictate his writing to assistants, one of whom was the great metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell.

In this sonnet, Milton refers to Jesus' parable of the talents, found at Matthew 25:14-30. Milton obviously feared that he was becoming like the servant who deliberately hid his talent, rather than using it and making it grow. While the talents in this parable were actually monetary units, and could represent various gifts, opportunities or useful abilities, many artists and interpreters have seen them literally as "talents."

Milton, a devout man, obviously found himself in a difficult position. He didn't want to make excuses for himself, but he also saw that his blindness had left him severely limited. This poem also reminds me of the apostle Paul's comments on his friend Epaphroditus, who was "longing to see all of you and is depressed because you heard he had fallen sick." (Philippians 2:26). Epaphroditus evidently felt that he couldn't do all that he felt he should be doing, and that his weakness had left him somehow exposed.

'On His Blindness' offers the response: "They also serve who only stand and wait." Sometimes there is little else that we can do but hold on. It doesn't mean that we are worth any less, or that we are any less loved.

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