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"When I consider how my light is spent"

Poetry Explication
by

Megan Goldfarb

on 13 December 2012

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Transcript of "When I consider how my light is spent"

"When I Consider How My Light is Spent" By John Milton Background: John Milton - Milton possessed a "'vehement love for the beautiful" and "uncompromising idealism" (Taylor).

- Lived 1608-1674 in London, England (“John Milton,” World History: The Modern Era).

- Social critic and religious reformer during the English Civil War (Taylor).

-Devout Puritan who attacked the tyranny of the state and church (Taylor).

- Common Theme: "the soul in ethical conflict- the wayfaring, wayfaring Christian" ("John Milton," Notable Poets 746).

- Milton became completely blind in 1652. "When I consider how my light is spent" is his first poetic reference to his blindness ("Overview"). In "When I consider how my light is spent," John Milton uses the Italian sonnet form, Biblical allusions, and other devices to question his purpose in life after going blind, and to come to a resolution regarding how he can continue to serve God. Poem Structure - Petrarchan Sonnet

-14 lines, iambic pentameter

-Rhyme Scheme: abba abba, cde cde

-Octave and Sestet mark changes in speaker and tone Octave - Milton questions how he can serve God after becoming blind

- Tone: Concerned, frustrated, desperate Volta - Shift occurs within the eighth line

- Lack of period hastens the reader forward to emphasize how Patience jumps in to prevent the narrator from complaining ("Overview"). Sestet - Speaker changes to Patience, persona of Milton's inner, Godly conscience ("Overview").

- Patience resolves Milton's question by informing him that he can serve God without labor and talents.

- Tone: Becomes pacified, resolved, and hopeful. Line by Line Explication Line 1 - Allusion: The phrase comes from Shakespeare's "Sonnet XV," where "Age brings failings to the human body" ("Overview"). -Metaphor: "Light" represents vision and age; as Milton's loss of vision is a result of his getting older ("Overview"). -Binary Opposition: In light/dark, vision/blindness, and youth/aging. Line 2 "Ere half my days" -Continues age metaphor- The last half of Milton's life will be spent in the dark ("Overview"). "In this dark world and wide" -Alliteration

-Imagery of vast, dark world

-Emphasis on "wide" due to reverse word order "When I consider" "how my light is spent" Line 3 "one talent which is death to hide" - Allusion to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25- a master gives his servants talents, one servant buries his and is punished ("Overview").

- In the Bible, a talent is a type of currency- Milton uses the word to describe his writing skill.

- Milton worries the fate of the servant who hid the talent might be his own.

- Milton may be hinting at his concern that he will not be able to write his great epic, "Paradise Lost" ("Overview"). Lines 4 and 5 "Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent/ To serve therewith my Maker" - Milton's diction reveals his frustration and perseverance; his talent is stuck with him but his blindness renders it unproductive, yet his blindness only increases his motivation to serve God ("Overview"). Line 6 "My true account, lest he returning chide;" - Continues allusion to the parable of the
talents; Milton desires to prove to God that he
has not wasted his talent. Rather than a bank account, his "account" is a true presentation of himself to God ("Overview"). Line 7 "Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?" - Allusion to Matthew 20: 1-16- A vineyard owner pays his men the same wages regardless of how long they work. This is a reminder that God is generous to all who serve him, regardless of time ("Overview").

- For John Milton, there is no daytime; he is always in the dark. Lines 8-10 - Shift in speaker to the persona Patience- who answers quickly to prevent Milton's murmur, which means complaint ("Overview").

-"fondly" means "foolishly."

- In line 10, Patience tells Milton that God does not need the labor or talents of man "I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent/ That murmur, soon replies" Line 11 "who best/ Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best." - Allusion to Matthew 11:30, where Jesus says
“yoke of belief” is an easier burden to bear than the heavier burden, or “the lack of salvation without God" ("Overview").

- The yoke is a metaphor for God's direction of his servants. Lines 12-13 "Thousands at his bidding speed, / And post o'er land and ocean without rest:" - Allusion to Psalms 68: 17, to the "thousands of chariots and angels" that "hasten to do God's bidding" ("Overview").

- "Post" is used to reinforce the image of haste with which God's servants work ("Overview"). Line 14 "They also serve who only stand and wait." - Allusion to Matthew 24 and 25, where Jesus “tells his followers they must watch and wait because they do not know when the Lord will come” ("Overview"). This allusion comforts Milton by telling him that all he needs is a willingness to serve God and he may serve, he must just wait until he is called to do so.
"John Milton." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

"John Milton." Notable Poets. Vol. 2. Pasadena: Salem, 1998. 746-59. Print.

"Overview: 'When I Consider (Sonnet XIX).'" Poetry for Students. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 37. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Dec. 2012.

Taylor, Myron. "John Milton: Overview." Reference Guide to English Literature. Ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick. 2nd ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. Works Cited
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