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A prose analysis on milton

A Prose Analysis on Milton's "Sonnet XIX"

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

is shut from the physical world, then the inner eye (the mind) works in the dark.

In the darkness, the seeds of imagination grow; therefore, the seeds give the

listener a new experience. Again, the primacy of experience is found within the

dark. Hence, the mind's eyes see a whole new world differently than the world

we live. If the truth shall set a person free, therefore truth is derived from

the fundamentals of darkness.

Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge, for

knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world...stimulating

progress, or giving birth to evolution." In other words, imagination is the

fundamental of darkness. In the mind's eyes, a sense of truth rises from the

inky and bottomless pool. Therefore, the pool is the redemption of Milton's

soul. There is a coexistence between light and dark. Line fourteen, "They also

serve who stand and wait." implies that the people who are patient, focused, and

determined will be able to see the light. The word "they" is referred to the

virtues of truth.

"Sonnet XIX" contains the following characteristics: it is unique in

style, rich in context, and carries a melodic mood and tone. The style of the

sonnet was derived from the Baroque Period. The elements of written work during

the Baroque period consisted of sharp contrast, biblical context, and change in

mood. Furthermore, the Baroque style has a strong emphasis on creating balance.

Throughout Milton's sonnet, there were many contrasts made between light and

dark. The usage of "light" and "dark" creates a sense of balance in the sonnet.

Paired words such as: "light" and "dark", "death" and "soul", "useless" and

"work", "denied" and "serve" are antonyms of each other. These words create an

atmosphere of mood and balance.

"Sonnet XIX" is written in Petrachan form. Milton's choice of form and

pattern of end rimes intensifies the depth and insight of the sonnet. The

structure of the end rime consists of two forms. From lines one to eight, the

end rime pattern is abba...abba. The last six lines end with an end rime pattern

of The effectiveness of the sonnet is enhanced by the melodic sentence

structure of each line. The alternating pattern of end rimes provide a dramatic

mood and tone to the sonnet.

Milton's sonnet is an example of exploring human behavior and the

unfamiliar to understand the rational world. Milton suggests that God's

satisfaction is to see man at work and not his accomplishments. From lines one

to eight, the tone of Milton's emotions was dark and expressed anthropocentric

feelings. Essentially, Milton' s state of mind was confusion and bitterly

anguished over his blindness. On line four, Milton describes his soul bent out

of the physical world. He believed that without exercising his gift, he would

be doomed till the day of his death. He sits in darkness.

However in the darkness, Milton came to understand that God does not

need him to exercise the gift. From Voltaire's short story, "Candide" Pangloss

said, "for man was put in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum,

to work; which proves that man was not born for rest." In other words, the work

and effort is more important than the gift from God. Like Candide, Milton

suffered and endured his own hardships and struggles before he realized his

place in life. In conclusion, Milton learned to cultivate his garden as to

parent to his child.

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