Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney :
(Poem #1602) Sonnet XXIII: Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint
Methought I saw my late espoused saint Brought to me, like Alcestis from the grave, Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave, Rescu'd from death by force, though pale and faint. Mine, as whom wash'd from spot of child-bed taint Purification in the old Law did save, And such as yet once more I trust to have Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint, Came vested all in white, pure as her mind; Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shin'd So clear as in no face with more delight. But oh! As to embrace me she inclin'd, I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night.
You ask for old poems, I deliver. This one got missed somehow; the other famous Milton sonnet we're missing is "How soon hath Time," but I don't like that one. This one I've always loved, ever since I first encountered it in high school. It helps to know that the "saint" in question is Milton's second wife, whom he'd married when he was already blind. So the dream in which he says he sees her is doubly miraculous; it also adds that extra punch to "day brought back my night." I love that last line, by the way. It's one of those lines that happen every so often that make Milton, despite all the attendant aggravations of reading him, more than worth the trouble. The poem creates this shimmering, white, pure vision of the unseen wife, just beyond reach like a Tantalus torture. That last line makes so clear the agony of loss, which he probably experiences over and over again every time he wakes without her. On the flip side, however, we see that heaven is (in the mean time) attainable for Milton in the form of his dreams. Obligatory form geekery: Milton preferred Petrarchian to Shakespearian sonnet form: the rhyme scheme is abba abba cdc dcd, which is a slight variation on the usual Petrarchian form for the sestet (cde cde or cde dce). Unusually for Milton, there's not a real clear change of mood or subject between the eight and the six. The Classical reference to Alcestis: she died but was stolen from Hades by Hercules and restored to her husband Admetus. The Biblical reference is to the Levitical purification rite after childbirth; also, with the white robe, a further reference to the purification of the Resurrection (!). --Mark