One of my favorite poems is John Milton’s sonnet “On His Blindness.” Today, we know Milton as one of the greatest poets of the English language, author of Paradise Lost, and featured in countless high school and college literature anthologies. When he wrote this poem, however, Milton was better known as a political writer and activist. He had supported Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War and been appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues for Cromwell’s Republican government.
In his mid–40s, though, Milton became completely blind. In an age before Braille, audiobooks, or computers, his career as a scholar and writer seemed to be over.
When I consider how my life is spent E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide, And that one Talent which is death to hide, Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account, least he returning chide, Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d, 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 milde yoak, they serve him best, his State Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest: They also serve who only stand and waite.
The poem is thick with Biblical allusions and reflection. Milton begins in despair over his blindness — “My life is spent.” This is not only depression over his physical condition, but a spiritual despair that he will no longer be able to serve God. Milton refers to his “one Talent,” an allusion to Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14–30), in which a master returns to his servants, expecting them to have invested their talents (then, a form of currency, but by Milton’s day, coming to mean “talent” in the modern sense) and gained a significant return. Milton’s “one Talent” — his ability to read and write — is now useless. Continue reading Waiting for a Moment That May Never Come