The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

John Milton’s Sonnet XIX, sometimes known as “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent,” opens with the narrator reflecting on the fact that he has become blind before half his life has been lived. He is profoundly distressed at the prospect of no longer being able to use his greatest talent, writing, and fears that God might be displeased and punish him for not using it—just as, in a biblical parable, God punished the servant who had not used the money entrusted to him but had hidden it instead. He asks himself whether God could possibly expect the same service from him, being impaired, that God expects from those without an overwhelming handicap.

As he is posing this question in his mind, Patience, personified, answers by reminding him that God does not have to depend on humanity’s work or its gifts; rather, those who serve God best are those who “Bear his mild yoke.” The narrator acknowledges God’s exalted position and the fact that multitudes of people all over the world stay busy night and day doing things that God bids them do; nevertheless, he concludes that those who “only stand and wait” can also serve God in a way that is worthy.