Quotes n’ Notes: John Milton # When I Consider…

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

[By – John Milton]

When I Consider How my Light Is Spent, also known as ‘On His Blindness’, is a Miltonic sonnet. John Milton has been best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost, considered to be one of the greatest works in the English language.

‘When I Consider…’ is about Milton’s loss of sight in the early 1650s. Worried about how could he best serve God after his sight had gone, the poet goes into deep interaction with himself and tries to find some solution and peace.

The poet laments that when he considers how his light, i. e., eyesight is spent or left him even before half of his life was over in this wide and dark world, he regrets that the one unique talent he had, which would have been there for his whole life, has been lodged with him useless. Obviously, he was referring to his poetic talent which he’s afraid, would go utterly waste because of his blindness.

That was Milton’s mental agony. But his soul doesn’t entirely give up. He affirms that his soul is still bent upon serving his Maker, i. e., God and present his account to him, lest he might not receive His chide for his default and failure.

The idea of serving God in his present sorry state makes him complain, rather mildly or ‘fondly’. He wonders if God exacts day labour from his creatures with light denied.

However, the poet summons his patience. He tries to stop that murmuring voice within and replacing that with a saner one. He tries to justify on God’s behalf and says that God does not require any man’s work or his talents. Those who bear the ‘mild yoke’ or pressure God puts on the humans serve him best. His state, according to the calmer poet, is kingly, i. e., royal and there’s no dearth of servants; thousands would rush up promptly, untiringly from all over at His call.

Then, the poet gets a bit personal. Reminded of his handicap, he consoles himself saying – “They also serve who only stand and wait.” He knows he can’t serve Him with body nor his unique talent, but he is willing to do that heart and soul and is content with even that.

The intensity of the poet’s anguish and the patient and logical reasoning must have brought relief to his upset mind and calmed his stressed nerves.That apart, Milton’s concluding words became a golden mantra for all those who wish to serve Him, despite feeling helpless owing to some serious setback.

# Ashok Misra

  • Miltonic sonnets are based on Petrarchan sonnets. They use the same rhyme scheme (ABBAABBA CDECDE) and structure (an eight line octave and a six line sestet).

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