John Milton – Sonnet 19 / On His Blindness (Summary)

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Summary of the Poem

“On His Blindness is a sonnet written by John Milton, an acclaimed seventeenth century English poet. As a sonneteer, Milton widened the range of the sonnet and revived the classical or the Petrarchan sonnet from, falling into parts: the first, an octave (eight lines) rhyming abba abba, reveals the poet’s fears and complaints; and the second, a sestet (six lines) rhyming cde cde, teaches us total submission to God’s design.

This poem was written in 1655; three years after Milton become completely blind, and was marked by a brooding sense of despondency arising out of his blindness. It was written when Milton was in his forty-fourth year. The poem can be divided into two parts. In the first half of the poem, he expresses his sadness at the loss of his eye-sight. He finds himself alone in this dark and wide world. God has given him the talent of writing poetry. This gift is lying useless within.

He is expressing his unhappiness about the fact that the best part of his life would go waste without producing any work of creative importance. It is like death for him to hide his talent. He fears that God will rebuke him for not using his talent because he want to serve God with this gift. He grumbles against God and he, thus, raises the question of the justness of God’s ways to man in relation to his own loss of sight. He foolishly asks himself whether God demands work from him although the God has made him blind. Thus the first half of the poem reflects the poet’s mood of sadness and murmuring.

However, the second part of the poem expresses Milton’s feeling of resignation and his undiminished faith in God’s justice. He accepts total submission to the will of God. The poet’s inner faith consoles him and stops his murmur. He realizes that God does not need anyone’s praise or work. Those who bear the duties given by God served him best. God only want complete faith in him. Those who patiently serve God and wait for his orders are also his true servants. The sonnet teaches us to be content with our lot in life and also that it is man’s duty to stand in readiness to serve God without any complaint or protest.


Reference to the Context

Stanza 1

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;

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘On His Blindness’ written John Milton. It was written in 1655 three years after Milton became completely blind. This sonnet is marked by a brooding sense of despondency arising out of his blindness. He feels sad that he will not be able to serve the God with his talent of writing poetry.

In this poem Milton is very unhappy and feels sad because he became completely blind when he was in his forty-fourth year. He is left alone in this dark and vast world and this condition intensifies a blind man’s feeling of helplessness. God had given him the talent of writing poetry. But this gift is lying useless with him as God has made him blind. He feels that it is like soul killing for him to hide his talent of writing poetry. He is ready to serve God with his talent and present his true account. But he feels unable to do so due to his blindness. He fears that God will rebuke him for not using this gift. Thus these lines show Milton’s lament on his untimely loss of sight.


Stanza 2

“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.

These lines quoted above have been taken Milton’s sonnet ‘On His Blindness’. Here the poet is expressing his unhappiness and sadness at the loss of his eye-sight and laments that the best part of his life would go waste without producing any work of creative importance.

Milton is very sad at the loss of his eye-sight. He grumbles and in helpless anguish asks foolishly whether God could be so unjust as to expect active service even from a blind man. But then poet’s patience consoles his needling anguish. It tells him god is the master of this universe and he does not need either man’s work or the return of his gifts. Countless angels are engaged in God’s active service and carry our his orders submissively all over the world. Those who patiently bear the duties given by God are his true servants. These lines show Milton’s undiminished faith in God and his ways or Justice.


Stanza 3

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.”

These lines quoted above have been taken from the sonnet ‘On His Blindness’ written by Milton. In this poem the poet expresses his sadness at his blindness. He grumbles against God. But his patience and unshaken faith in Gods justice consoles him.

Milton’s patience calms him and tells him that God is the benign creator of the universe. He does not need man’s work. God is like a great king. Thousands of angels are at his service. They rush over land and ocean without rest in order to carryout his commands. But some angels do not work. They stand and only wait for his orders. They are also his best servant. He is consoled by the realisation that God is best served not through worldly attainments but through sincere devotion. At the end of the poem the poet signifies patience, devotion and submission to God by mentioning the phrase ‘stand and wait’.


Question-Answer

Q1. Comment on the two different moode of the poets as revealed by the sonnet.
Ans. “On His Blindness is a sonnet written by John Milton, an acclaimed seventeenth century English poet. As a sonneteer, Milton widened the range of the sonnet and revived the classical or the Petrarchan sonnet from, falling into parts: the first, an octave (eight lines) rhyming abba abba, reveals the poet’s fears and complaints; and the second, a sestet (six lines) rhyming cde cde, teaches us total submission to God’s design.
This poem was written in 1655; three years after Milton become completely blind, and is marked by a brooding sense of despondency arising out of his blindness. It was written when Milton was in his forty-fourth year. The poem can be divided into two parts. In the first half of the poem, he expresses his sadness at the loss of his eye-sight. He finds himself alone in this dark and wide world. God has given him the talent of writing poetry. This gift is lying useless within. He is expressing his unhappiness about the fact that the best part of his life would go waste without producing any work of creative importance. It is like death for him to hide his talent. He fears that God will rebuke him for not using his talent because he wants to serve God with this gift. He grumbles against God and he, thus, raises the question of the justness of God’s ways to man in relation to his own loss of sight. He foolishly asks himself whether God demands work from him although the God has made him blind. Thus the first half of the poem reflects the poet’s mood of sadness and murmuring.
However, the second part of the poem expresses Milton’s feeling of resignation and his undiminished faith in God’s justice. He accepts total submission to the will of God. The poet’s inner faith consoles him and stops his murmur. He realises that God does not need anyone’s praise or work. Those who bear the duties given by God serve him best. God only wants complete faith in him. Those who patiently serve God and wait for his orders are also his true servants. The sonnet teaches us to be content with our lot in life and also that it is man’s duty to stand in readiness to serve God without any complaint or protest.

Q2. How does the poet justify the ways of God to man in the sonnet “On His Blindness”?
Ans. This poem teaches us that we should have complete faith in the ways of God. The poet expresses this idea through his personal experience. He became completely blind when he was in forty-fourth year. He got the feeling of helplessness and a sense of despondency arising out of his blindness. In a better mood, Milton is inclined to think of God as a hard taskmaster. He feels that God will rebuke him for not using his gift of writing poetry. He grumbles against God for making him blind.
But then Milton gets a feeling of resignation and complete faith in God’s justice. He accepts total submission to the will of God. His inner faith consoles him. It tells him that God does not need man’s work. Nor does he want the return of his own gifts. Those who accept God’s will are his true servants. God is like a great king. Thousand of angles are busy in carrying out his orders. But those are also his best servants who only stand and wait for his orders.
Thus the sonnet teaches and justifies the ways of God to man and conveys the moral idea that we should accept God’s will cheerfully. The poet is consoled by the realization that God is best served not through worldly attainments but through sincere devotion. In the end the poet signifies patience, devotion and submission of God.

Q3. Does optimism of the last two lines naturally evolve out of the poem?
Ans. John Milton was a religious poet. His poem “On His Blindness” also contains a moral. It teaches us to have complete and unshaken trust in God. The real service of God is to have complete faith in him. God is like a great king, the master of universe. Countless angles are engaged in God’s active service and carry out his orders submissively all over the world. They rush over land and ocean without rest in order to carry out his orders. But some angels do not work. They just stand near his throne and wait for his orders. They are also ready to obey his orders. Readiness to do some work is as good as actually doing it. Milton believes that those who have patience, complete devotion, and submission in the ways of God are also as good as those who are actually serving him.
Thus we see that the optimism of the last two lines develops naturally out of the poem. The poet believes that standing in readiness to serve God without any complaint or protest is as good actually serving God.

Q4. How does Milton regret the loss of his ‘light’?
Ans. Milton had become completely blind in the middle of his life. God had given him one precious talent, the talent of writing poetry. But this talent is now lying useless with him. It is like death for him to hide his talent and he fears that God will rebuke him for not using this gift of writing poetry. But then a doubt enters his mind. He foolishly murmurs whether God accepts work from a man whom he has made blind. He finds himself alone in this dark and wide world it intensifies a blind man’s feeling of helplessness.

Q5. Describe the Italians sonnet and state whether the sonnet “On His Blindness” follows the Italian pattern or not?
Ans. A sonnet is a lyrics poem written in a single stanza, which consists of fourteen iambic pentameter lines linked by an intricate rhyme scheme. They sonnet is written in the Italian/Petrarchan form, falling in two parts. The first part of eight lines is called an octave (8 lines) and the next part of six lines is called sestet. The rhyme scheme of the octave is abba abba and reveals the poet’s fears and complaints. The second, a sestet is having the rhyme pattern of cde cde and teaches us total submission of God is design.

Q6. How does Patience forestall the poet’s anguish?
Ans. Milton’s undiminished faith in God’s justice consoles raised doubts. It tells him that God is like a great king, the master of the universe. Countless angels are engaged in God’s active service and carry out his orders submissively all over the world. Patience silences the poet’s needling anguish. God being the begin creator of universe, does not need man’s work, nor does he need a return for his own gifts. God is a kind master. Those persons who submit to the will of God are his best servants.

Q7. State examples of metaphor and personification in the poem.
Ans.: The poet uses a number of metaphors. Here “light” stand for the poet’s eyesight which he has lost in the middle of his life. The ‘maker’ is the almighty God. The ‘mild yoke’ implies the gentle control of God that demands is no more than obedience and a desire to serve him. The poet also makes the use of personification in the poem. He personifies patience. Here patience silences the poet’s needling anguish and consoles the poet.

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