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Sonnet XXIII: Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint -- John Milton

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.
-- John Milton
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

31 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Siriporn_Kampong said...

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Kevin said...

please post more sonnets,nice to get started

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,
Do you know anything about the link between Sir Walter Raleigh's Sonnet 13 "Methought I saw the grave where Laura lay" and this sonnet by Milton?

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