Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet XIX is deeply concerned with the plight of one who wishes, and is even determined, to do God’s will but, because of circumstances beyond his own control, finds that he may not be able to continue doing it. He wonders if he will be punished by God for not being able to use to the fullest the talent with which God has endowed him.

The metaphor around which the sonnet is developed is the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable, the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a master, who, before departing to a faraway place, distributes among three servants various sums of money (talents). They are to invest or otherwise use the money to earn more so that they can report a worthy gain when the master returns. Two of the servants do so: The one with five talents produces ten, and the servant with two doubles his. The third servant, however, is fearful and hides his one talent for fear that, if he fails to use it profitably, he might lose even the little that he has. When the master returns and hears his excuse for not having increased what he was given, he is angry and commands that the unprofitable servant be cast “into outer darkness.”

Milton believed fervently that his genius for writing was a God-given talent, and when he became blind, it was a reasonable reaction to wonder what consequence there might be for not using his gifts in God’s service. The poem proceeds, then, from grief through questioning—“Doth God...

(The entire section is 530 words.)