Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar Stood ruled, stood vast infinitude confined; Till at his second bidding darkness fled, Light shone, and order from disorder sprung.  - John Milton

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.”

John Milton again. After reading his Epic, Paradise lost, up to three times last year, this is another of his works I fell in love with. I have read, and re-read, and again, and again. It’s no surprise why I love it. I love poetry that speaks to or for me. Sometimes, or most times, or is it all the time? I try to imagine what the writer must have been feeling when he/she wrote it. Because of the nature of what I write, it is almost always a very naked experience for me; writing and especially putting it out there. Although I never openly said that my poetry is confessional, well, there are smart readers who catch/caught on. So yeah I had to admit it. Now this just made me smile. I remember admitting somewhere that I do write confessional poetry and one writer friend of mine said “Really, i’m going back to read all of your poems then.” I didn’t ask him why he was suddenly interested again. People will be people.

Now back to Milton, and his confessional sonnet. Like the nature of sonnets this being Italian/Petrarchan, a problem is presented, questions asked, in the octave, and then resolved in the sestet that follows. He asks really deep questions, directed at God.  I particularly like the contrast in the poem…the light, and the darkness. See, he was a writer, he needed his eyes to work. Going blind was the worst ever to happen to him (or so it seemed initially) and so he battled within himself. “Why?” One day the world is before him, with the beautiful and the ugly and the enticing and repulsive, he could see them all; a vast store of inspiration scattered all around him. Another day he wakes and the world is dark, and his talent (light) seems useless. What does one do with this much potential, when the world has been shut out? How does one use the fire that burns inside, with the world closed off? Keep it buried? So you drown in it? Every time I read the poem, I asked myself these questions. Does it really matter? Should you be out there to shine? Can you not shine in one small corner, so bright, that the world rather strains to catch a glimpse? Wondering what it is that shines so bright in that place they never cared to look before?

Milton did not give up. As the answer in the sestet says….

“God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.”

The answer is to wait. Milton believed his talent was from God, and he believed his blindness had come from God. Now what do we make of this? You give me a task that requires my sight and you take my sight? What are you up to God? What is this? A game? I am double sure Milton had similar thoughts before, during, and even after he wrote this sonnet. He wrote the truth he knew, although he was battling with it. Who says its easy holding on to truth that almost seems illogical? I can relate to every single line of this poem. Milton did not choose to go blind, he didn’t ask for the world to be put out before him. It just happened. Now when I think of Paradise lost, and that Milton wrote it in darkness, I just can’t hide my smile. Have you read the epic? No? My! You should. Greatness…greatness! The only light he knew was in him. In his head. He went into himself. And from that light…he told the epic, while his wife wrote. I can almost hear him say these opening lines;

Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top

Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire

That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill [ 10 ]
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d

Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues 
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread 
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence, 
And justifie the wayes of God to men.”

“And justify the ways of God to men” and i’m smiling yet again, tempted to quote the whole of book one! 😀

Reading about him and his works that excite me so, I am at peace, now sure more than ever, we all do not need to be out there. Some of us should be in here. Only a period of waiting. Just a matter of time. Last night after reading the sonnet again, I wrote this. Not the best poem I’ve written, but here goes;

When Milton wrote

“They also serve

Who only stand and wait”
He must have known
How hard it was
To pen those words

True as they were

While fear lurked behind,
Rabid dogs
Around the stone wall

Tempted to give up

Morning delayed
By an unexpected
He must have known
To wait
Is no easy task
But wait

I must.

They also serve who only stand and wait.  - John Milton


2 thoughts on “LIGHT WITHIN

  1. At times I like to think (though I fear it’s harder to admit to myself) that the light within is much greater than the light without. It takes great character to still keep faith when everything suggests you should do otherwise.

    I admire people who’ve proved strong in difficult situations, because it’s something I have never been able to do. Milton was a marvelous man.


    1. “It takes great character to still keep faith when everything suggests you should do otherwise.”
      True. when everything suggests you should do otherwise but i have developed some stubborn faith recently 🙂 “Discipline is remembering what you want” right? I keep reminding myself what I want, and it does work.
      He was a man strong in faith.


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