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On His Blindness

Explanation of On His Blindness

On His Blindness is a Petrarchan sonnet of fourteen lines. In the poem, Milton is remorseful that he has lost his eye-sight so early even before entering the middle age.

He is fearful of the fact that due to his failed vision he will not be able to use his talent of poesy to fulfil his service towards God, though he is still very much eager to make judicious use of it. He is also afraid that the Almighty may punish him for this failure to Him by the use of his God-given skill of writing poetry. At the moments when this kind of apprehension comes to his mind, he is in the anxiety of the nature of God’s justice, but what brings calm to such anxiousness is the religious conscience which soothes his soul. He realizes that God is not concerned with the service of man; nor does he get bothered whether His gifts are utilized or wasted. He is the reigning Almighty, the King of kings who has numerous angels at His service day and night, across the earth and sea. He comes to the conclusion that the service to God is not solely about active work but is also about patient relinquishment to His will and dispensation.

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Lines 1-8

Milton’s impatience and remorseness at his blindness is reflected through these lines. We learn that he is blind (‘dark world’) before reaching the middle ages of his life (‘Ere half my life’). It is this blindness which is restricting him (‘lodged in me useless’) in fully utilizing his poetic ‘talent’ by writing something in honour of God. He believes that God has intended man to make full use of the talent which God has bestowed on him/her or be ready for punishment (‘lest he returning chide’), and he is already very eager to serve him.

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But he ‘fondly’ asks him whether it is justified that God ‘exact day labour’ from a man who from whom he has ‘light denied’ (made him blind).

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Lines 9-14

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In these lines, we notice that Milton’s attitude of doubt(‘murmur’) is resolved with a moment (‘soon replies’). The lines that follow awakens his conscience and restores his faith in divine justice. He comes to the realization that God does not need man’s work by way of service to him neither is he bothered whether his provided gifts are used by humans or not. (‘‘God doth not need Either man’s work or his own gifts’; who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best’). He is the Almighty. He is the master of all kings. His supremacy is all over the universe. ( ‘His state Is Kingly’). He has scores of angels who are at his beck and call. (‘Thousands at his bidding speed’), these angels are ready to go across land or sea at his command. (‘And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest’). At his service are also others who ‘only stand and wait’. They sing his praise. These people waiting at his side are equal to the active workers. So, the best service to the Almighty would be a patient and content submission to His will.

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Summary of the Poem

“On His Blindness is a sonnet written by John Milton, an acclaimed seventeenth century English poet. As a sonneteer, Milton widened the range of the sonnet and revived the classical or the Petrarchan sonnet from, falling into parts: the first, an octave (eight lines) rhyming abba abba, reveals the poet’s fears and complaints; and the second, a sestet (six lines) rhyming cde cde, teaches us total submission to God’s design.

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This poem was written in 1655; three years after Milton become completely blind, and was marked by a brooding sense of despondency arising out of his blindness. It was written when Milton was in his forty-fourth year. The poem can be divided into two parts. In the first half of the poem, he expresses his sadness at the loss of his eye-sight. He finds himself alone in this dark and wide world. God has given him the talent of writing poetry. This gift is lying useless within. He is expressing his unhappiness about the fact that the best part of his life would go waste without producing any work of creative importance. It is like death for him to hide his talent. He fears that God will rebuke him for not using his talent because he want to serve God with this gift. He grumbles against God and he, thus, raises the question of the justness of God’s ways to man in relation to his own loss of sight. He foolishly asks himself whether God demands work from him although the God has made him blind. Thus the first half of the poem reflects the poet’s mood of sadness and murmuring.

However, the second part of the poem expresses Milton’s feeling of resignation and his undiminished faith in God’s justice. He accepts total submission to the will of God. The poet’s inner faith consoles him and stops his murmur. He realises that God does not need anyone’s praise or work. Those who bear the duties given by God served him best. God only want complete faith in him. Those who patiently serve God and wait for his orders are also his true servants. The sonnet teaches us to be content with our lot in life and also that it is man’s duty to stand in readiness to serve God without any complaint or protest.

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