John Milton Questions and Answers

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Can you please explain each line in "On His Blindness" by John Milton's?

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lynnebh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I will get you started on this and you can do the rest.

As you know, Milton lost his sight and in this sonnet, he is lamenting its loss yet trying to console himself that his life still has purpose. Milton had a deep knowledge of Scripture (that is how he was able to write Paradise Lost), and in this poem, you can see the influence of his faith. While he is exploring his feelings about being blind, he seeks comfort through his faith. There is a lot of light/dark imagery:

 “my light is spent”


“ere half my days in this dark world and wide”.  

He states that he still has gifts and “talents” and that he can use them to serve “my Maker.” He admits that God does not need his or anyone’s help:

God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts 

Nevertheless, God wants man to serve him. This Milton will do, and he says that he will wait on God to let him know the direction this service will take him, even though he may not be able to use his former gift of writing to serve God. When God closes one door, he opens the other. This is what Milton believes.

Look at the structure of the poem and see how he uses language to express this idea. There are lots of poetic devices and the word choices evoke a quiet, contemplative mood. Read more about Milton here on enotes.

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dpaigegarrison | Student

I rewrote Milton's poem in more modern format. Maybe this will help you and others understand more of the meaning behind "When I Considered How My Light Is Spent:"

When I look back on how I spent the time I had left with my eyesight,

I remember thinking to myself, “I’m only 46 years old. I still have over half of my life ahead of me and I will have to more than 46 years lost in darkness. Why has God afforded me the talent of poetry if He is just going to strip me of my vision? Is my talent so magnificent that He must take it from me so that the Heavens can enjoy it? I understand now that He is taking my purpose on Earth away from me so that my soul will be saved and I will go to Heaven when death comes for me. I shall return Him the gift He bestowed on me to show Him my worth. When Jesus returns for the Second Coming to judge both the living and the dead, he will not reprimand me for refusing to give up what God has gifted me. Will God find me loyal? Will I have done enough with my gift so that when my sight is gone I will still matter to Him? I must be patient for Patience assures me that I will still have purpose, for God needs not from me. If I can give myself purpose despite the burden blessed upon me, then I will be able to serve God better, for I shall act with what I’m given without questioning the greatness of Him. To serve God along with the many others who have been given purpose by Him from all around the world, even if it is to wait in my blindness for all the years of life ahead of me, will be a redeemed furtherance.”

renoa | Student

Poem analysis

Line 1

The poem starts with the speaker who is the poet himself John Milton, reflecting upon his blindness and how God expects him to make full use of his ability as a writer, if he cannot even see the paper on which he writes. The talent of the poet is useless now that he is losing his sight The poet considers how his “light” is used up or wasted . “light” for this deeply religious poet it mean an inner light or spiritual capacity. So He uses the word "light" to refer to his blindness and also his inner light.

Line 2

The poet assumes that his life is not yet over. The phrase “in this dark world and wide” is a very honest image.

Line 3

This line as I read refer to a story in the Bible .which speaks of a bad servant who neglected his master’s talent "a talent was a kind of coin" instead of using it. He is "cast into outer darkness.". It can also mean Milton’s talent as a writer.

Lines 4-6

"Lodged with me useless" means that his talent as a poet is useless now that he is losing his sight. Line 5 expresses the speaker’s desire to serve God through his poetry, to use his talents for the glory of God."Though my soul more bent/ to serve therewith my Maker" , here the poet is saying that although my soul is even more inclined to serve God with that talent, I want to serve God with my writing , but he feels that his talent will be wasted as he becomes blind. He wishes to "present his true account," or give a good account of himself and his service to God. The sixth line may refer to the second coming of prophet Jesus peace be upon him "Lest he returning chide", as a Christian poet he didn't  won’t to be blamed or rebuke when Jesus returns.



Lines 7-8

Milton asked if God just wants lesser tasks since his blindness denies him from using his talents.

Patience is capitalized in the eighth line and becomes more clearly personified when answering Milton's question.

Line 9

Patience speaks, to prevent that "murmur," Milton’s questioning of God’s will in previous line.

Lines 10-14

Patience’s reply explains the nature of God. First of all God does not need man’s work.

"Who best / bear his mild yoke" means the people who are most respectful to God's will. These people are the ones who serve God best. The image of the yoke is also Biblical. " yoke " was a kind of harness put on oxen but in other bible it is an image for God's will.

God's greatness "His state is kingly" was explained here .

At God’s bidding or will, thousands of people "speed and post" all over the world all the time. This line mean that the whole world are servants to God. There is more than one way to serve God, and patience is telling the poet that even his waiting caused by his blindness can be a kind of service .