This article provides a summary of the poem “On His Blindness” by John Milton. A complete analysis of on his blindness with a special emphasis on letting the readers understand the theme of on his blindness. It is one of the most popular sonnets read in high schools and undergraduate classes. Here, I have provided a short synopsis of what this sonnet tries to infer. This sonnet is written as a result of Milton’s grief, as he lost his eye sight at his middle age.
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Milton’s eye sight was weak from his early youth. In a prose pamphlet, he describes, “I never extinguished my lamp before midnight” and points his ultimate blindness to the strain put upon his eyes. In the verses of Wood who knew Milton very well: “It was unusual with him to sit up till midnight at his books, which was the first thing that brought his eyes into the danger of blindness.” Click here to continue reading…
Date of Composition and Insights about the Sonnet
The exact date of composition of the sonnet can’t be ascertained. Milton became completely blind in 1652. Stopford Brooke is of this opinion- He says that this sonnet was written 20 years after his first sonnet, which was written in 1632, which implies that it was writer somewhere after his blindness in 1652. This sonnet was first published in 1673.
Keynote: In this sonnet there is an undertone of despondency, even a sense of impatience though Milton checks himself from any impious thought. This sonnet records the first shock of Milton’s blindness.
The Substance and Critical Appreciation:
Milton regrets that he has lost his eye-sight even before reaching the middle age. He is afraid that because of his blindness he cannot serve God by using his poetic talent, though he is eager to make the right and proper use of it. He fears that God may punish him for failing to serve Him by using his God-given gift of writing poetry. When such fears trouble him, for a moment his soul is disturbed by questioning the justice of God. But at once the religious conscience quiets his soul. He realizes that God doesn’t care for the service of man; nor does He care if His gifts are used or not. He is the King of kings and He had thousands of angels serving Him day and night, over earth and sea. Service to God consists not only in active work but also in patient resignation to His will and dispensation.
Milton gets rather impatient at the thought of his blindness. He is blind in the middle age. Blindness prevents him from using his poetic talent by writing something great to glorify God. He has a keen desire to serve God by using his poetic talent, because he knows that God wants man to use his God-given power or he may be punished. In an impatient mood Milton doubts if God would be just in demanding work from a blind man like him.
Milton’s attitude of doubt passes off in a moment. His inner conscience rises up with its faith in God’s justice. He realizes that God does not need man’s work by way of service to him; nor does he care whether man uses His gifts. He is the King of kings; His dominion is over the universe. He has thousands of angels doing His biddings at all times flying over land and sea. He has thousands of others who stand by His throne and sing His praise. The latter too are as good as beloved as the active angels. So, patient submission to His will is the best service to Him.
But Patience, to prevent – The Heart of the Sonnet
For a moment, and only for a moment, Milton is perturbed at the thought that God may punish him for not using his poetic gift rightly in doing something great in His service. He doubts God’s justice and wisdom. But the next moment his inner sense of resignation to the Divine will pulls him up. He at once realizes that God does not care for the active service of man, nor does He take back the gifts bestowed on man, if man cannot use them for adequate reason. God is neither so thoughtless nor so poor. Milton realizes that service to God consists in patient submission to His will; those who uncomplainingly take the afflictions of God as His measure for correcting and improving them and thus resign themselves fully to His all-wise and all-just providence, are His true servants.
Why ‘On His Blindness’ is considered one of the greatest all time sonnets?
This is a popular question and students tends to get answer it in the perspective of literary analysis. However, I visualize it in a totally different way. The reason why ‘On His Blindness’ is such a great sonnet is because of Milton himself and the confession he makes in this sonnet. Milton is certainly ranked in the highest level, par with other literary emperors. His exceptional epic pieces, “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained” were written after he was completely blind.
His enormous faith in God made him able to produce works of such rare talent, and in this sonnet, he admitted his faith in God, made a yearning desire to write something great and dedicate it as a service to God. His admission and faith provided him the power to produce his ‘Immortal epics’ This is why, “On His Blindness” is so important as a sonnet when one studies about Milton’s life.
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I have a working note, complete line by line exhaustive analysis of this poem, “On his Blindness” which I may publish within some days. However, if anyone of you are in need of that, do let me know through your comments. Then, I shall stretch myself to publish it here, a bit faster.