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Sonnet 16

John Milton

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On His Blindness
2003-04-14
Added by: MB
The poem starts with the speaker, Milton, reflecting upon his blindness and how God expects him to make full use of his ability as a writer, if he cannot even see the paper on which he writes. The talent of the “poet is useless now that he is losing his sight” (Napierkowski 262), even though he wishes to serve God with his writing now more than ever. After stating this problem, he wonders if God wants him to do smaller tasks since he can no longer see light or use his talent. Milton’s own patience answers his question as foolish: that God does not need man to do work for Him and those obedient to Him “[bear] his mild yoke” (Milton 10). Patience continues to tell Milton that God is being continuously served by thousands of people and the natural world. Most importantly Milton understands that waiting can be its own kind of service. When expressing this, Milton expresses it in a tone of depression and frustration.
He uses the word “light” to refer to his blindness and also his inner light. Many references are made to monetary exchange within his thoughts on his blindness and duty to God. The words that have monetary connotations are “spent,” “talent,” “useless,” “account,” and “exact.” Along with the words that have monetary diction, are his Biblical references. When “talent” is used, it can refer to the story of a master giving three servants coins to hold for him. The master rewards the two that spent them wisely and cast into darkness the servant that has buried it. If Milton buries his talent to use at a later date, it might become hidden forever, and no good will come of it. Then he will be cast into God’s darkness. Again Milton makes reference to the Bible when he says, “Who best / Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best” (Milton 10-1). The yoke, ox harness, represents the will of God. Patience is capitalized in the eighth line and becomes more clearly personified when answering Milton’s question.
“Sonnet 16” is an Italian sonnet. Its rhyme scheme is abba abba cde cde. It has “an octave, or first eight lines, [that] poses a problem, and [a] sestet, or last six lines, [that] offers an answer” (Napierkowski 264). The volta, or turn, is usually contained in the ninth line, but Milton places it in the middle of the eighth, which helps convey a feeling of impatience. The enjambments also make the poem seem hurried and 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” (Napierkowski 264). The iambic pentameter makes the poem balanced.
There are four main themes in “On His Blindness.” One is limitation. Milton believes that his blindness will ruin his chances for using his talents as he once could have done. Without his sight, it becomes even more difficult to create poetry, or even write it down for others to read. The light in the poem becomes another theme. The reader “only need[s] to notice the importance that he put on light after his sight was gone to see what it meant to him” (Kelly 269). Not only does it represent the light that is seen with the eyes, but also the spiritual light and the light of life. The day can be a metaphor for life and “our lives are limited and once night comes that day is gone forever” (Napierkowski 263). Though Milton’s life has not expired, his life of poetry has died. Duty and submission are the last two themes. His duty is to make use of the “talents” that have been given to him. At the end, he realizes that God does not need man to do work for Him and that he will be able to serve God in another way other than how he had served Him before.
Works Cited
Kelly, David. Criticism on “Sonnet 16.” Poetry for Students. Eds. Marie Rose Napierkowski,
and Mary K. Ruby. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 267-9.
Milton, John. “On His Blindness.” Rpt. in Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Eds. Laurie
G. Kirszner, and Stephen R. Mandell. Compact 4th ed. Ft. Worth: Harcourt, 2000. 817.
Napierkowski, Marie Rose, and Mary K. Ruby, eds. “[On His Blindness] Sonnet 16.” Poetry for
Students. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 260-7.
Smart, J.S. Introduction. The Sonnets of John Milton. Clarendon, 1966. 1-39. Rpt. in Poetry
For Students. Eds. Marie Rose Napierkowski, and Mary K. Ruby. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 267-9.

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