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ON HIS BLINDNESS.

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.'

Poem Summary
Line 1
The poet considers how his light is used up or wasted or put forth in the world; in a poem on blindness,
light can most easily be interpreted as his ability to see. But for this deeply religious poet it may also mean
an inner light or spiritual capacity.
Line 2
The poet assumes that his life is not yet half over. The phrase in this dark world and wide is typical of one
of the ways Milton handles adjectives, putting one in front of the noun and one behind it.
Line 3
This line may refer to the Biblical parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) which speaks of a bad servant
who neglects his masters talent (a talent was a kind of coin) instead of using it; he is cast into outer
darkness. It can also mean a literal talent, in other words Miltons talent as a writer.
Lines 4-6
Lodged with me useless means that his talent as a poet is useless now that he is losing his sight. Though
my soul more bent/ to serve therewith my Maker can be roughly paraphrased, although my soul is even
more inclined to serve God with that talent. This is especially frustrating to want to serve God with his
writing but to feel his talent will be wasted as he becomes blind. He wishes ultimately to present his true
account, or give a good account of himself and his service to God.
Line 5
Line 5 expresses the speakers desire to serve God through his poetry, to use his talents for the glory of
God.
Line 6
This line may refer to the second coming of Christ or to the judgement. Lest he returning chide can be

paraphrased so that he wont chide or rebuke me when he returns.


Lines 7-8
Milton grumblingly asks here if God just wants day-work, or smaller, lesser tasks, since Miltons blindness
denies him his light and thus the use of his talents. Note that Milton allows his grumbling tone to show
first, and then qualifies his own attitude as foolish.
Line 8
Patience is not capitalized, but has often been thought of as a personification here rather than as another
aspect of Miltons inner self. Either way, in the inner dialogue, patience speaks in the remaining six lines,
quite effectively having the last word.
Line 9
Patience speaks, to prevent that murmur, Miltons questioning of Gods will in line 7.
Lines 10-14
Patiences reply explains one aspect of the nature of God and affirms a kind of service to God that is
different from the service advocated in the parable of the talents. First of all God does not need mans work
or God-given talents. The nature of service to God is explained next.
Lines 10-11
Who best / bear his mild yoke means the people who are most obedient to Gods will (which is mild, not
difficult). These people are the ones who serve God best. The image of the yoke is also Biblical; a yoke was
a kind of harness put on oxen but in Matthew 11:29-30 it is an image for Gods will.
Lines 11-12
His state is kingly explains Gods greatness; patience goes on to elaborate in the next lines on that
greatness.
Lines 12-13
At Gods bidding or will, thousands of people and by implication angelic messengers speed and post all
over the world all the time. This line implies a sort of constant worldwide motion of service to Gods
commands; that allows the last line to imply by contrast a great restfulness and peace. There is more than
one way to serve God, and patience is telling the poet that even his waiting or the apparent inaction caused
by his blindness can be a kind of service if it meets the criterion of lines 10-11, to bear the yoke well.
Line 14
This famous line is often quoted

Themes
Limitation
In Sonnet 16 Milton meditates on the devastating effect blindness has had on his life and work. He equates
his lost vision with light spent, and laments not the handicap in and of itself, but the limitations it imposes
on his work as a poet. His poetic ability is so important to him that he calls it that one talent, suggesting it

is the only talent that matters. It is Lodged with me useless in other words, its expression has been
rendered impossible by his blindness. His limitation is particularly distressing since Milton desires more than
ever to write poetry but seems to see no way to continue. Blindness imposed a double limitation on Miltons
poetic activity. In the broadest sense, it made poetry an impossible activity, for there was no way for a blind
man to put words to paper. In addition, Miltons conception of epic poetry presupposed a high level of
education. The loss of his vision meant he could no longer read and, by extension, could no longer learn.
Light
The image of light is important to the poem. On the most superficial level it refers to physical light, which
the poet can no longer experience. It calls to mind a story in the Gospel of John (John IX, 1-7) to which
Milton referred in other texts. In the story, Jesus miraculously cures a beggars blindness. The image of light
resonates on many different levels in the Bible story, and most are present in Sonnet 16 as well. For
instance, when Jesus tells his disciples I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day; the night
cometh when no man can work, daylight is a metaphor for mans life. Like each day, our lives are limited
and once night comes that day is gone forever. As he writes, Milton is still alive, but he believes the darkness
his blindness has brought means the end of his creative life. When he writes of talent which is death to
hide, he suggests further that his blindness will prevent him from achieving another, longer life: the
immortality that fame brings a poet who has written a masterpiece.
On yet another level, light signifies the inner light, the spiritual light that shines in the poet. In the gospel
story, Christ called himself the light of the world, that he was bringing Gods word to man. Milton believed
that poets were also bringers of light; their works brought a special kind of enlightenment to humanity. But
his blindness has snuffed out his poetic light.
Duty
Milton refers to another gospel passage in this sonnet, the parable of the talents from the gospel of
Matthew. In that story a master gives each of his three servants a sum of money, that is, some talents,
which they are to keep for him while he undertakes a journey. When he returns, he asks each servant for
the money. The first two have used the money wisely and return to the master twice the sum they were
entrusted with. The third servant, however, only buried his talent. The master is angrywith the servant,
takes back the money, and casts him in the outer darkness. The moral of the story, of which Milton is well
aware, is that each are given gifts by God, and that for all there will be a day of reckoning when all will have
to present [ones] true account. In his poem, Milton plays upon the two meanings of talent: a form of
money in the Bible story and a God-given ability in the everyday sense. He fears that, because of his
blindness, he will never be able to put his talent to the use God intends.
For fourteen years, Milton hid his talent in the earth, in the words of the gospel. The wicked and slothful
servant was cast into darkness. One sense, therefore, in which it is death to hide ones talent, is that one
will be punished: cast out of the light, out of Gods presence. Milton, however, has not yet been called to
make his true account. His soul burns as much as ever to put it to use, but the darkness into which he has
already been cast prevents Milton from doing his duty to God and making full use of his talent. Can God
expect him do his work without his eyesight?, he is finally tempted to ask. Can God truly expect him to fulfill
a duty that God himself has apparently made impossible?
Submission
Patience, the virtue, counsels against putting that foolish question put to the Almighty. Mans duty to God is
not to give Him anything. God has no need of humans work; everything they have are his own gifts
anyway, in Miltons eyes. In the face of a catastrophe like blindness the only course of action open to him
and the rest of mankind, as the last six lines suggest is humble resignation to Gods will. Who best / Bear
his mild yoke, they serve him best hearkens back to the passage in Johns gospel mentioned earlier. Jesus
tells his disciples that the blind man did not become blind because he had sinned, but that the work of God

should be made manifest in him. Like Job, Milton accepts his lot in life as part of a greater plan. Some are
meant for action, to speed / And post oer the land and ocean without rest. But others who only stand and
wait whether as a servant awaiting his masters bidding or a laborer waiting to be hired do Gods will
as well.

Style
In Sonnet 16 sonnet Milton takes advantage of the Italian sonnet form, in which an octave, or first eight
lines, poses a problem, and the sestet, or last six lines, offers an answer or resolution. The dividing point
between problem and solution is at line 9, usually called the turn or volta. In this sonnet Milton uses the
turn cleverly to emphasize his own impatience: the turn comes a half line early, and it is his own patience he
personifies as speaking out to prevent his own impatience. The quatrains use enclosed rhyme, sometimes
notated as abba abba; here the sestets rhyme scheme is cde cde, one of the many accepted rhyme
schemes of an Italian sestet. Milton was known for his metrical skill, and this poems regular iambic
pentameter is typically competent, although it does not contain the amazing rhythmic and musical effects
for which he is well known. It is interesting instead for its many enjambments, the running over of one line
into another, which might be said to make the lines hurry along. All the impatient enjambments make the
last line stand out by contrast; in some sense they help the last line perform what its theme is, to stand still
and wait.