John Milton, “On His Blindness” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

At the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference on Saturday, 1,000 men seated in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross were challenged to “go all in” in the great poker game with Jesus Christ. This challenge applies to you and me, whether we have a huge stack of chips in front of us or just a pair of white ones, like the widow with her mite. English poet John Milton (1608–1674) was completely blind by the age of 44—not as serious a calamity as Beethoven’s deafness but certainly a handicap to the author of Paradise Lost. His chips were depleted.

Meditating on his “spent light,” Milton came up with the beautiful sonnet known as “On His Blindness.” Any time you feel you have little to give, or the wrong thing, you can recall Milton’s final line: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” At the center of the sonnet stands Patience.

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.” 

  • crazylikeknoxes

    Good post. And a safe one inasmuch as it lets Milton speak for himself. I also appreciated your enthusiasm for Whitman in a post the other week. I cannot say I share that enthusiasm, although. Milton is much more to my liking.A priest I knew used to refer to Milton in his homilies and this was a favorite anecdote of mine. Milton, a protestant of the puritan variety, describes a place in Paradise Lost called the Paradise of Fools, where one might "see Cowles, Hoods and Habits with thir wearers tost and flutterd into Raggs, then Reliques, Beads, Indulgences, Dispenses, Pardons, Bulls, The sport of Wind ***." Milton is mocking the cult of relics. Well, most of us recognize that God has a sense of humor. So, the irony must be of divine origin that, about a hundred years after Milton's death, his grave was dug up and his skeleton broken to provide souvenir/relics for the curious. For a while they tried charging admission to view Milton's mortal remains. For the story:

  • Fan of Schall

    In a previous thread you asked the question: dumb luck or the Holy Spirit? After finishing my daily reading of blogs, I firmly conclude with the answer of the Holy Spirit. Great minds think alike. Attached is today's post of Fr. Victor Brown's Catholic Daily Message. Please say a prayer for Father Vicente.Feast of Saint Anselm (21 Apr 2010)I am composing this message at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 21. Just a few blocks away from where I am sitting, a team of surgeons and other physicians in the M.D.Anderson cancer hospital are scheduled to perform a 12-hour-long operation on one of our confreres, Father Isidore Vicente, who is a member of this community and the staff of our Holy Rosary parish. We, and especially Father Vicente himself, I am sure, have been waiting for this moment. God willing, this marks the beginning of the end of his sufferings and of his total recuperation so as to return to the active service and ministry within the context of his Dominican vocation and parish ministry. One day, when Father Vicente was reflecting upon his illness—cancer of the jaw, mouth, and tongue—he said with a note of chagrin: “I am called to be a preacher (the official title of the Dominicans is ‘the Order of Preachers’) and now I can hardly speak at all.” Of course, there are many ways to preach. Saint Francis of Assisi once said to his followers, “Preach always; if necessary, use words.”In this connection, I am reminded of the immortal “Ode on his Blindness” by the English poet, John Milton. He went blind at the very height of his literary career, and reflecting upon his inability to see, he wrote this:When I consider how my light is spentEre half my days in this dark world and wide,And that one talent which is death to hideLodged with me useless, though my soul more bentTo serve therewith my Maker, and presentMy true account, lest he, returning, chide,“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”I fondly ask. But patience, to preventThat murmur, soon replies, “God doth not needEither man’s work or his own gifts. Who bestBear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His stateIs kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,And post o’er land and ocean without rest;They also serve who only stand and wait.”Please join me and this community in praying for our confrere, that if it be God’s will, he may recover, but that whatever happens, he will be able with God’s grace, to “stand and wait” upon the holy will of God. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.

  • Maria

    I spent an entire semester studying Paradise Lost.Oh, what happy days they were…

  • Anonymous

    Fan of Schall,Amazing that Fr. Brown's daily message was the same quote as Webster used! I have been following Fr. Brown, O P for years. He married us and I had an amazing best man who had gone to catholic grade school with me and my wife. Now to see this post, surely the Holy Spirit. I will pray for Fr. Vincente tonight during prayers. He is a fine Dominican.Pax