John Milton, a poet who was completely blind in 1651 wrote "Sonnet XIX"
in 1652; this sonnet is his response to his loss of sight. The theme of the
sonnet is the loss and regain of primacy of experience. Milton offers his
philosophical view on animism and God. Furthermore, "Sonnet XIX" explores
Milton's faith and relationship with God. "Sonnet XIX" suggests that man was
created to work and not rest. The supportive details, structure, form, and
richness of context embodies the theme. The sonnet goes through two phases: the
first phase is Milton's question addressed to God, "Why me?" he asked. Then,
the second phase offers a resolution to Milton's dilemma. Moreover, the sonnet
acts as a self-poem to Milton, himself.
In the beginning of the sonnet, Milton suggests that his primacy of
experience have been deferred when he became blind. The words, "dark", "death",
and "useless" (lines 2-4) describe the emotional state of Milton. His blindness
created a shrouded clarity within his mind. Line three, "And that one talent
which is death to hide" is an allusion to the biblical context of the bible.
Line three refers to the story of Matthew XXV, 14-30 where a servant of the lord
buried his single talent instead of investing it. At the lord's return, he cast
the servant into the "outer darkness" and deprived all he had. Hence, Milton
devoted his life in writing; however, his blindness raped his God's gift away.
A tremendous cloud casted over him and darkened his reality of life and the
world. Like the servant, Milton was flung into the darkness.
Line seven, "Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?" describes the
limitations and burdens of a person who has lost his sense of place in life.
Obviously, Milton is making a reference to his blindness in relation to line
seven. Line seven implies that once the usefulness of a man has diminished,
then is man doomed to wasting the rest of his remaining days. In other words,
has Milton's handicap made him into an obsolete machine? The quote "To be or
not to be,'", (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene1) runs through Milton's mind. Shall he
struggle and fight in the webs of darkness, or shall he accept defeat. A sense
of "dark clarity" - a sinister paradox occupies Milton's mind. His brain was
once clear, set, and on task; but now, it is clouded, unorganized, and
However, in the darkness, a new form of clarity arises. "That murmur.
Soon replies, God doth not need Either man's work or his own gifts;" (lines 9-
10) suggests that the willingness to try is good enough to satisfy God.
Milton's realization of the needs of God from man bought him to a higher
enlightenment. Therefore, the "dark clarity" renewed Milton's primacy of
experience. Like, Kenneth Rexroth, Milton broke away from the "beaten path" and
chose his own.
Perhaps, the struggle within the darkness guides the truth out of the
abyss. For example, if a person listens to Bach or Mozart, the musical
experience is different when the listener's eyes are closed. When the outer eye
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