On His Blindness – John Milton
On His Blindness (Sonnet XIX) is a petrarchan sonnet about how Milton comes to terms with his loss of sight. The sonnet talks about how he looks for help with his blindness in religion, Milton was a devout Puritan. This strongly influenced Milton’s thinking, his family were often involved in many political and religious controversies.
A lot of Milton’s writing was influenced by the Bible and Greek writers such as Homer. Milton follows the typical Petrarchan sonnet form of fourteen lines all in one stanza.
This stanza is internally split into an octet (eight lines) – this usually asks a question, here it is Milton complains about his blindness and how he thinks it’s unfair for it to happen to him. The sestet (six lines) – answers the question asked in the octet, here Milton talks about how patience is a virtue. In the sestet there is a quote from the ‘Parable of Talents’, this emphasises Milton’s strong religious beliefs. It has an Iambic pentameter, five stressed then unstressed syllables.
Milton uses the contrast of light and dark to understand his affliction ‘My light is spent’ this implies that his time with sight had run out. Alliteration is used ‘dark world and wide’ this emphasises Milton’s struggle to come to terms with his blindness. This contrast helps give an understanding of his blindness. There is a strong link to the ‘Parable of Talents’ Milton uses the Parable to guide him and give him encouragement to come to terms with his blindness. The extended metaphor on lines three to five which implies that being blind is something that Milton is ashamed of and doesn’t want others to know.
Milton writes in the past tense which implies that he’s moved on from his issues and he has comes to terms with his blindness. The use of pre-modifiers ‘fondly ask’ to emphasis his problem. Compound sentences show how deep and complex his argument about his blindness is. Enjambment shows that his thoughts on his issue are continuous and that he doesn’t stop thinking about it. However caesuras are used which implies that he swaps from one thought to another quickly. Milton’s rhyming pattern of ‘ABBAABBACDECDE’ follows the typical Petrarchan sonnet form.
The audience for this poem would typically have been a society which was ‘God-fearing’. At this time the church and religion was very influential and everyone had to attend church services. Therefore Milton’s audience was universal as everyone would seek approval from God as the most people had a strong belief in heaven and hell and would want God to look down on them positively to send them to heaven. In conclusion Milton used imagery such as metaphors and connotations to help us understand what he’s going through and the struggle he’s facing coming to terms with his blindness.