John Milton is considered to be the most significant English author after William Shakespeare. Although his chief work is “Paradise Lost”, he also wrote other wonderful poems, prose, as well as sonnets, in which he tackles a number of subjects which range from religious to political. Rarely is one piece of writing limited to one or the other of those fields. Among all the sonnets, Sonnet 16 is special because it refers to Milton’s blindness.
It was written soon after the poet became blind and starts with a mood of discouragement and grief “When I consider how my light is spent…” but ends in a note of resignation for the situation occurred: “They also serve who only stand and waite.
” The sonnet has four main themes. One of theme is limitation. Milton believes that his blindness will leave him with few chances to use his creative skills as he once did. Without his sight, writing poetry becomes more difficult for him.
It is perhaps not accidental that similar limitations affected other personalities, such as Beethoven, who, as composer, lost his hearing, Michelangelo, who as an artist lost also his sight, or Jorge Luis Borges, whose blindness didn’t prevent him from writing. The next theme is light, strongly related with the theme of limitation. Light represents what can be perceived with the eyes, but it also has the meaning of spiritual light. The poet expresses his frustration at being prevented from serving God the way he desires to.
In Milton’s opinion, a poet is useless when he loses his sight.
Though, his burning desire to serve God urges him to write more than ever. Milton understands that if he buries his talent to use it at a later date, it might become hidden forever, and the poet will be cast into God’s darkness. Milton’s message is that although his life has not expired, his life of poetry has vanished. The other themes present in Sonnet 16 are duty and submission. The poet feels that it is his duty to make use of other talents, other than poetry and he wonders if God allows him to do that.
The answers to his questions come from “Patience”, who tells him that God has many who hurry to do his bidding, and does not really need man’s work. What is really valued is the ability to bear God’s “mild yoke […]”. Milton makes the reader understand that, according to Christian faith, rather than being an obstacle to fulfill God’s work, the loss of vision is part of this work, but only on the condition that the impaired person understands to live patiently with his impairment. It is a lesson Milton himself learnt, since he wrote “Paradise Lost” after becoming blind.
Milton had a deep knowledge of Scripture (that is how he was able to write Paradise Lost), and in this poem, you can see the influence of his faith. The central meaning of the poem revolves around what Milton is about to complain to God: “Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d”. The word “day-labourer” in Milton’s opinion is a suggestion that the labourer works only in the daylight, in the presence of light, therefore the poet does not know whether God would accept a labourer for whom the light is denied.
The complaint is asked “fondly” (which means foolishly, unwisely), but even so, the poet is prevented from stating it by Patience (personified by Milton), who explains to the poet what the nature of God is. God is absolute and does not need man’s work. “Who best / bear his mild yoke” means the people who are most respectful to God’s will. However, God judges humans on whether they labor for Him to the best of their ability. Therefore, even if one person becomes severely disabled, he remains worthy in the sight of God. For, as Milton