By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet
[When I consider how my light is spent]
By John Milton
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-labor, 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 yolk, 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.”
Through the words of his poem “[When I consider how my light is spent,]” John Milton turns the hearts and minds of suffering individuals to God and blesses them with comfort and understanding. Milton wants the words in this poem to continue to accomplish the work of God in the hearts and minds of his future readers. He demonstrates through his poetry and his own life that individuals can achieve strength during times of adversity through a connection with the Lord.
This Sonnet is written in the Italian form in iambic pentameter, following the pattern abba abba cde cde. Milton begins with an octave that raises questions and expresses his concerns. During his life, Milton had a great deal of success. Milton was a wealthy and influential person until a political change caused him to lose all of his property and to be shut up in prison. Milton also slowly lost his eyesight because of a degenerative disease.
Milton begins his poem by saying, “When I consider how my light is spent,” (Line 1) Here Milton alludes to one of the teachings of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus Christ said, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.
“Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light unto all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven” (NKJV). Milton is concerned about his personal ability to share his “light.” Milton departs from the iambic rhythm on the word “consider.” This disruption emphasizes that the things which he is considering, produce pain and disruption in his life.
Milton next writes, “Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide, / And that one talent which is death to hide” (Lines 2 and 3) As we bear in mind that this man was blind, we see the reason he would refer to this as a dark world. Milton seems to be asking himself in this poem how well he is doing in his effort to accomplish the direction of Jesus Christ to let his light shine. When Milton refers to “that one talent which is death to hide,” he references Matthew 25:25-30. A summary of this Bible passage is as follows: A man was afraid because he was a broker and had been entrusted by a rich and powerful investor to use some of the investor’s money to produce a return on the investment. The man was so afraid of losing this money through poor decisions, that he buried the money in the ground until the investor returned. The investor was very angry and pointed out that if he had known that the broker was going to hide the money in the ground he could have given this money instead to a banker and at least received a modest amount of interest instead of nothing. The angry and powerful investor then ordered the broker to be cast into outer darkness, where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Once again Milton departs from iambic pentameter on the word “one.” This emphasizes his lament about his current state of poverty, blindness, and imprisonment.
Milton continues, “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-labor, light denied?’” (Lines 4-7) On the word “lodged” Milton again departs from the iambic rhythm and we again feel an indication of feelings of frustration with his isolation and limited ability to share his influence. Milton indicates that he wants to use his resources to serve his maker; however, he says that because of his physical limitation, it is “lodged with him useless.” Milton wants a chance to present his case so that his righteous desires will be taken into account. He succeeds in his effort through this very poem. Milton wants to let his light shine so that the returning investor, the Lord, will not reprove him by asking, “Do you really expect to be paid when you did not share your light?”
Milton then states, “I fondly ask; but patience to prevent” (Line 8) Milton prays for patience so that he can avoid a situation where he must be reproved and punished by God.
This opening octave is followed in the poem by a sestet, (which answers the concerns and questions expressed in the octave.)
Milton writes, “That murmur, soon replies, ‘God doth not need / Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best / Bear his mild yolk, they serve him best. His state.” (Lines 9-11) The voice of the Holy Ghost then answers the murmured prayer of his heart and teaches him that God already has everything he needs to be happy. Those who endure cheerfully through their trials are His best followers. Milton is able to demonstrate, by writing this
poem that he is enduring cheerfully. Milton’s reference to a yoke is clearly referring to another scripture found in the Bible. This scripture is likely to be Matthew 11:28-30. In this passage Jesus Christ says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (NKJV). Milton again emphasizes the word “bear” by departing from the iambic rhythm. Milton shows on this word that it takes great effort to take that yoke upon us even though it is easy once we are coupled with God as a team.
Milton concludes by saying “Is kingly, Thousands at his bidding speed / And post o’er land and ocean without rest: / They also serve who only stand and wait.” (Lines 12-14) Milton indicates in these lines that the Lord is a King and there are thousands of servants who at the command of the Lord, will traverse the entire world and stand ready at their post. Those who patiently endure afflictions and look forward in faith to the second coming of the Lord, though unable to go on a spectacular voyage to a far away land, also serve him by being good examples to others who may suffer in the future. Milton’s message suggests that as we endure affliction without losing hope or faith in God, that we can still serve him, glorify him, and lead others to him as we patiently wait upon the Lord for healing and happiness in a future day.
Milton’s desires have been realized in the opportunity for students to write an explication of his poem after so many years have passed. John Milton continued to wait upon the Lord and thus was a good example and let his light shine. Through his poem, he presents the “true account” of the desires of his heart to serve God despite his limitations.
Milton’s poem is successful, not only in form and beauty, but also in the higher purpose intended by Milton. Through his words Milton turns the hearts and minds of suffering individuals to God and blesses them with comfort and understanding. By letting his light shine forth from out of a dark prison cell, Milton’s words comforted my heart when, two weeks ago, my Father had a massive stroke leaving him paralyzed on his left side. Because Milton was able to see with an eye of faith and share his vision with us, I’ve had the strength to comfort my Father, Who up until two weeks ago was serving as a Christian Bishop. I’ve comforted my father with the beautiful words of Milton, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” We wait upon the Lord and also glorify God today because of the timeless poetic work of John Milton.
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