John Milton’s 400th Birthday
Today is the 400th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest English poets, John Milton (December 9, 1608 – November 8, 1674).
His greatest work, the epic poem Paradise Lost, was dictated between 1658 and 1664. He had become totally blind by 1654.
It begins with this prayer (to the Holy Spirit?), and covers the sweep of history from Adam to Christ:
Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse...
But in spite of the magnificent scope of the epic, my favorite of all Milton’s writings is the sonnet, On His Blindness. I love it all the more the older I get. You will see why.
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.”
Pause and give thanks to God for his gifts to the world like John Milton and his verse. Sometimes the blind see far better than the ever-busy seers.