On His Blindness Study Guide
Introduction to On His Blindness
John Milton’s poem “On His Blindness” is an autobiographical sonnet in which Milton meditates on his own loss of sight. For most of his life, Milton had been able to see perfectly, but his late-night reading and writing on behalf of the government of the short-lived English Republic, in which he held a prominent position, helped ruin his eyesight. This sonnet—written in the Petrarchan rhyme scheme associated with the fourteenth-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarca—is divided into an eight-line “octave” and a six-line “sestet.” The sonnet is therefore a typical Petrarchan sonnet in form, but in subject matter, the poem departs from the topics usually associated with Petrarchan poems. Rather than writing about love, Milton departs from that conventional topic to deal with the very practical, physical problem of blindness, which he comes to understand and accept through a spiritual framework.
A Brief Biography of John Milton
John Milton (1608–1674) was an English poet who gained worldwide fame and influenced generations of writers. Though he died more than a hundred years before its inception, John Milton is considered one of the forefathers of the Romantic period. His seminal work, the epic poem Paradise Lost, influenced Romantic and gothic writers such as Mary Shelley, whose novel Frankenstein even features a quotation from Milton’s masterpiece. Throughout his life, he had strong opinions about government, religion, education, and society, and his pamphlet campaigns on these matters led to his incarceration and nearly cost him his life. Though Paradise Lost is a reflection of the failure of the Commonwealth period that Milton supported so ardently, it succeeded in catalyzing two centuries of English poetry.