How My Light Is Spent

One of the greatest poems in the English language was written by John Milton as he dealt with the onset of his blindness. “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” has eleven lines with seven subordinate clauses. When the dependent clauses are stripped away we are left with their sense:


When I consider how my light is spent,
I fondly ask (so he won’t scold me)
If God demands day-labor light denied?


John Milton’s contention with himself as he thought on his blindness was not simply a complaint and a chastening. Clearly he was in anguish not only at his loss of sight but at his inability to serve God as he thought he should. But, Milton found through his loss not only the resignation to abide it but turned his mind with a startling clarity of thought and vision to writing his most memorable work: Paradise Lost.


Adapted from Miller Williams, “Touchstones, American Poets on a Favorite Poem” Robert Pack and Jay Parini, Editors, Middlebury College Press 1996.

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