John Milton, in the poem On His Blindness, talks of the frustration of the speaker who is blind and hence unable to serve God. The speaker’s frustration finds a reply from “Patience” who tells that the Almighty does not really require man’s work. All he asks for is the perseverance to bear with the “mild yoke” and embrace what the God asks for with faith in heart. The poet puts to use the form and his quintessential touch in language and content of his work. The poem is considered one of Milton’s immortal literary works. A close enquiry into these devices makes one comprehend the poem more closely.
This poem is in the Italian sonnet form. The poem can be divided into two sections, one of which has eight lines and the other has six. This form of a sonnet got popularized by Petrarch, the famous Italian poet. The rhyme scheme of this poem is ABBAABBAC CDECDE. In the first part of the sonnet, the speaker endeavors to frame his question, while the second part voices the response by the figure which is called “patience.” A conspicuous feature of Italian sonnets is the thematic turn between the two parts of the poem. The poem has been penned in classic iambic pentameter. Also, the poem shows the use of quite a lot of enjambment by John Milton.
Milton utilizes the point of view of the speaker to weave the lines of the poem. In spite of the fact that the speaker is seething with rage at the Almighty, he expresses himself very carefully. He has the skill and exuberance to do great deeds in his lifetime, but his light has run out. This is in fact the greatest hindrance which bothers the speaker as he ponders over the opportunities which lied before him. But, to his sheer misfortune, he is unsure of the success of his pursuits due to his incapability.
The first section of the poem is the vehement complaint of the speaker as he is gripped with the fear of being unsuccessful, although he is endowed with optimum skill to perform. It is at such a point of sheer exasperation of the speaker that “patience” comes to console him. This is actually the patience of the speaker.
Milton aptly uses the language to portray his thoughts in the poem. He uses the complex wordplay to make his readers comprehend the reason for the speaker’s hardship in serving God. In the very first line of the poem, Milton expresses that vision is not similar to “light”, though vision needs light. Thus, one word cannot be substituted for the other. The poet uses a metaphor comparing his vision to a source of light that could burn out just like a lamp which burns through oil. Milton writes, "Ere half my days", implying the days before one meets demise. Also, “days” is a signifier for daylight. He goes on to use another metaphor to compare the blurring vision with a world devoid of light. God is compared to a master who puts his servants to work in sheer darkness. The poet expresses that the master “denies” the servants light.
The poem utilizes a pun on “talent” which was also a unit of monetary measurement in the Biblical times. In the Gospel of Matthew, the parable of talent is about two servants (Chapter 25). The story about concealing the talent and thereby not transforming the master’s currency into profit is an extended metaphor. Here, God is analogous to the lord and the speaker is actually the servant who has buried the sum. Milton pens about the “true account” which might imply the story of justification about the time spent in the world, or may also point to the amount of money the servant was able to show in the parable. The poet describes that God’s has a “Kingly” state which is aimed to put forward the contrast between the lord of the parable and God.
In Christianity, “patience” is one of the virtues with paramount importance. It is through patience that an individual can tread on the path toward hope and faith. It is at a time when the speaker becomes skeptical about God being brutal for his demand of toil from the people knowing the fact that they are unable to do so, that patience comes forward to rectify the speaker. Here, Milton personifies the virtue of patience as “patience” which provides with the infallible advice. He uses metaphor to compare God’s rule with wooden yoke which guides animals in a farm. He then goes on to weave an image of the servants rushing all over the globe to serve the Almighty. The notion that God is the omnipotent force and all are in his service is established in the following lines, “Thousands at his bidding speed / And post o're Land and Ocean without rest: / They also serve who only stand and waite.”
One cannot but be in awe of the literary skill of John Milton who employs the devices to accentuate the affect of the poem. Interestingly, the poet himself was blinded at the time of writing this poem and this poem can well be taken as a conversation with oneself. The poem traverses the philosophical path which resolves the unrest in the heart and ignites new fervor in the innermost core of the heart. The poem is the expression of frustration and emancipation at the same time. It is the language which hogs the attention of the avid reader and the content expresses Milton’s belief in the omnipotence of the theological institution.
Nevertheless, On His Blindness delves deep into the psyche of a wishful human soul who is restricted in a way, but wishes to work. The poem is a perfect mesh of human emotions as it brings out the frustration, dreams and hopes. John Milton upholds the virtues of life and concludes by understanding that one should wait until the Almighty calls on that individual to serve.
Corns, T. N. (Ed.). (2001). A Companion to Milton. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
McLoone, G. H. (1999). Milton's Poetry of Independence: Five Studies. London: Associated