Rectifying a serious omission in the list of covered poets...
(Poem #106) On His Blindness
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 Lodg'd 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-labour, 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 yoke, 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."
Milton is not really one of my favourite poets, but this in no way detracts from his obvious merits. The poem above is one of his most famous, and certainly one of the more famous sonnets around. Like most of Milton's poetry, it is explicitly religious; this does, I think, give it a slightly anachronistic feel today, but it was far from uncommon in his time. Like a number of famous poems, most of this one's impact lies in its last line, which provides a beautiful counterpoint to the rest of the poem, and which is far more famous than the sonnet itself.  always excepting 'Paradise Lost' m. Notes: Form: sonnet: abbaabbacdecde 1. The date of composition is uncertain, Milton's blindness, to which this is the first reference in his poetry, became virtually complete in 1652, but if the arrangement of his sonnets is (as it elsewhere appears to be) chronological, the date must be, like that of Sonnet XVIII, 1655. First printed in Poems, 1673. light: power of vision, to be taken in conjunction with "this dark world.'' In a letter of 1654 Milton refers to a very faint susceptibility to light still remaining to him. 2. Ere half my days: we must not expect mathematical accuracy. But if we remember that Milton is speaking about his career in God's service, take its beginning in the avowed dedication to that service in Sonnet VII (1632), and assume the scriptural life-span of three score years and ten (which would mean life till 1678), 1652 falls before, and even 1655 does not extend beyond, the half-way mark of Milton's expected career of service. 3-6. The allusion is to the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30); death, like the outer darkness into which the unprofitable servant was cast, stands for the utmost in punishment; the Talent was a measure of weight and hence of value; there is here, of course, a play on the word in its modern sense of mental gift or endowment, in Milton's case his gift of poetry. 8. fondly: foolishly. -- from <http://library.utoronto.ca/www/utel/rp/authors/milton.html> Biography and Assessment Milton's sonnets (he only wrote a few, but they are so well-known that his variation is called the Miltonic sonnet) retain the original rhyme scheme of the Petrarchian or Italian sonnet, but completely get rid of the "volte", or change or perspective between the octet and sestet. The result is that the 14-line stanza becomes a monolith. An astounding thing is that it turns out to be just the right length, even for wide-minded (and occasionally long-winded) Milton. -- Bob Blair The major sonnets have much poetical as well as autobiographical interest, and as a group they illustrate (with "Lycidas") both in texture and rhythm the beginnings of the grand style (i.e., a literary style marked by a sustained and lofty dignity and sublimity) that was to have full scope in Paradise Lost. One is less conscious of sonnet structure and of rhymes than of a single massive unit that approaches a paragraph of Milton's blank verse. -- EB Milton, John b. Dec. 9, 1608, London, Eng. d. Nov. 8, 1674, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire one of the greatest poets of the English language. He also was a noted historian, scholar, pamphleteer, and civil servant for the Parliamentarians and the Puritan Commonwealth. Milton ranks second only to Shakespeare among English poets; his writings and his influence are an important part of the history of English literature, culture, and libertarian thought. He is best known for Paradise Lost, which is generally regarded as the greatest epic poem in the English language. Milton's prose works, however, are also important as a valuable interpretation of the Puritan revolution, and they have their place in modern histories of political and religious thought. -- EB A more complete biogaphy may be found at <http://www.gale.com/gale/poetry/poetset.html> And since no biography of Milton would be compelete without a short note on Paradise Lost: By 1650 Milton had given up the idea of composing a British epic. Instead he chose what was considered the most momentous event, next to the life and death of Christ, in the world's history--the fall of mankind from grace. Paradise Lost is an epic poem written in blank verse--i.e., unrhymed iambic pentameter verse. It tells the story of Satan's rebellion against God and his expulsion from heaven and the subsequent temptation and expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. By Milton's time the Fall of Man had already received innumerable literary treatments, narrative and dramatic, so that the simple tale in Genesis and the more shadowy role of Satan in heaven, earth, and hell had acquired a good deal of interpretative and concrete embellishment. So the main motives and events of Paradise Lost had abundant literary precedent, though they were handled with powerful originality; Milton, like a Greek dramatist, was reworking a story familiar in outline to his audience. His story, moreover, gave him the advantage of immemorial belief and association in the minds of his earlier readers. This advantage no longer operates in the same way--although, for modern readers, the fable still possesses at least the immemorial and universal import of archetypal myth. -- EB