On His Blindness: Summary, Theme & Analysis

On His Blindness: Summary, Theme & Analysis
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  • 0:00 Poem Summary
  • 2:26 Theme
  • 3:00 Analysis: Structure,…
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

In this lesson, you will learn what John Milton's poem 'On His Blindness' is about, its major theme, and how to analyze its features in terms of structure and figurative language.

Poem Summary

Many people are familiar with the story of Ludwig Van Beethoven. This man, in spite of being deaf, managed to become a world-renowned composer. What a terrible fate: to have the sense most integral to your art be taken away from you. Similar is the story of John Milton, an English poet, who, by 1655 at age 48, was blind. His ability to write was threatened and, as a result, his relationship with God became complicated.

In On His Blindness, Milton is struggling to understand what God expects of him now that he is losing his sight. He's upset about wasting 'that one Talent which is death to hide' (line 3), which is a biblical reference to the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30), in which two people invest their talents (in the story, 'talents' are money), while another just hides his talent in a hole and is punished. Milton feels that God expects him to use his talent for writing poetry in a way that honors Him.

Milton is frustrated that his lack of sight is preventing him from serving God when he wants to so badly:

...Though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account...
(lines 4-6)

Milton's 'true account' refers to his religious poetry. Much of his poetry was concerned with God's relationship to mankind and he considered it a serious duty to write poetry that simultaneously made God's mysterious ways more clear to people and honored God with its craft.

At line 7, Milton wonders if God still expects him to keep writing without his sight, then decides that God is more forgiving than he was giving him credit for, Surely, knowing of his condition and strong desire to please Him, God wouldn't expect anything that he couldn't possibly accomplish, nor would he punish him.

The last half of the poem has a calmer tone. It's almost like Milton realizes that while he's writing that people can serve God in many different ways. It's the intent and the grace with which one deals with hardship that counts:

Who best
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best.

Within 14 lines, Milton has depicted a wavering, then regaining of faith.

Theme

While the poem discusses Milton's blindness, his condition is used to explore his faith. Like Milton's other religious poetry, the purpose is to decide what a person's relationship with God and his or her role on Earth should look like.

At first, he was afraid he would be punished for wasting his talent and seemed almost distrusting of God (who, presumably, might have the power to cause or prevent his blindness) still expecting him to write, then he decided that bearing his blindness gracefully and doing the best he could would satisfy Him.

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