"My Late Espoused Saint"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: John Milton, scholarly poet of Puritan England, is noted not only for his ponderously impressive Paradise Lost, but also for his sonnets of both public and personal nature. In sonnet XXIII the poet in a dream beholds again the veiled visage of his second wife, Catherine Woodstock Milton, who has died in childbirth. As Hercules, son of Jove, brought back from the land of the dead Alcestis, wife of Greek King Admetus, according to legend and a play of Euripides, even so in Milton's dream is his deceased wife returned to the poet, until, reaching to embrace her, he awakens and she is not there. The entire sonnet reads:

Methought I saw my late espousèd saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
When Joves great Son to her glad Husband gave,
Rescu'd from death by force though pale and faint.
Mine, as whom washt from spot of child-bed taint,
Purification in the old Law did save,
And such, as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind:
Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight,
Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin'd
So clear, as in no face with more delight.
But O as to embrace me she enclin'd
I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night.