On His Blindness

By John Milton


Hello, poetry lovers! 📚✨ Today, we’re exploring a gem from one of the literary greats—John Milton and his touching sonnet, “On His Blindness.” Written after Milton became completely blind, this poem is not just a reflection of personal loss but a journey into the depths of faith and duty.

John Milton, a prominent figure of the 17th century, is best known for his epic masterpiece “Paradise Lost.” However, his sonnets, particularly “On His Blindness,” provide a more intimate glimpse into his life and struggles. This sonnet falls under the genre of carpe diem poetry, though it spins the traditional theme to focus on spiritual fulfillment rather than worldly experiences.

Meaning of On His Blindness

Opening section In the early lines of “On His Blindness,” Milton grapples with his loss of sight and the fear that he might no longer serve his divine purpose. The opening line, “When I consider how my light is spent,” metaphorically refers to his vision as a resource that he’s exhausted, setting a tone of despair and introspection.

Mid section Midway through the sonnet, the speaker’s tone shifts from despair to contemplation. Milton introduces a character, Patience, who speaks to him, soothing his turmoil. Patience explains that God does not need man’s work to prove his worthiness: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” This line is pivotal, emphasizing submission to God’s will and recognizing intrinsic value in faithful waiting.

Concluding section The conclusion reinforces the message introduced by Patience. It reflects Milton’s acceptance of his condition and his understanding that serving God isn’t limited to grand deeds. The humility and acceptance he expresses illustrate a profound spiritual resolution that even in physical limitation, there exists a divine purpose that is fulfilled in passive obedience and inner resilience.

In-depth Analysis

Each stanza in “On His Blindness” is packed with literary devices and offers a deep dive into Milton’s thoughts on his blindness and service to God:

Stanza One —

  • Literary techniques: Uses alliteration in “prevent” and “present,” enhancing the musical quality of the verse.
  • Syntax and diction: The choice of words like “spent” and “dark” convey a sense of loss and absence.
  • Figurative language: Metaphorically, blindness is depicted not just as a physical condition but as a spiritual and existential challenge.

Stanza Two —

  • Literary techniques: Personification of Patience gives the abstract concept a voice and counsel, making the poem’s message more impactful.
  • Syntax and diction: The dialogue introduced by Patience is formal and didactic, reflecting the solemnity of the message.
  • Figurative language: The key metaphor of “standing and waiting” as a form of service encapsulates the central theme of the poem.

Stanza Three —

  • Literary techniques: The closing lines emphasize anaphora with the repeated structure of the concluding sentiments.
  • Syntax and diction: Reflects a resolved and contemplative mood, transitioning from personal lament to universal truth.
  • Figurative language: The shift from personal grief to a broader philosophical assertion uses the sonnet structure to mark a journey from introspection to acceptance.

—Themes and Symbols—

Patience as a Virtue:

  • Theme: Milton explores patience not just as a passive endurance but as an active spiritual discipline. It’s about accepting one’s limitations and understanding that the timing and nature of service are defined by divine will, not human desire.
  • Symbol: Patience is personified and acts as Milton’s counselor, symbolizing wisdom and inner peace that comes from accepting God’s will.

Divine Service:

  • Theme: The poem delves into what constitutes true service to God. It challenges the notion that only active, visible productivity counts as service by proposing that waiting and enduring can also fulfill God’s purpose.
  • Symbol: The “mild yoke” is a symbol for the gentle, yet firm, demands of God on his followers, representing a divine command that is bearable and tempered by love.

Blindness as Spiritual Insight:

  • Theme: While Milton mourns his physical blindness, the poem reveals a paradox where loss of physical sight leads to deeper spiritual insights. This theme highlights the transcendence of spiritual vision over physical limitations.
  • Symbol: Blindness itself becomes a symbol for spiritual awakening and the shift from physical doing to spiritual being.

—Literary Techniques, Syntax, Diction, and Figurative Language—

Alliteration and Assonance:

  • Technique: The use of sound devices like alliteration in “post o’er land and ocean without rest” and assonance in “His state Is kingly” enhance the lyrical quality and help emphasize key concepts.
  • Effect: These devices lend a musical rhythm to the poem, helping to soothe the harshness of the subject matter with aesthetic pleasure.

Syntax and Diction:

  • Technique: Milton’s syntax is complex, often inverting traditional word order to emphasize certain words or to fit the meter of the sonnet.
  • Effect: This inversion puts focus on words like “God” and “serve,” which are crucial to the poem’s thematic essence, highlighting the divine focus of the narrative.

Personification and Metaphor:

  • Technique: Patience is personified as a comforting figure who speaks wisdom. The entire sonnet is structured around the metaphor of spending one’s light, equating sight with a resource used for work.
  • Effect: These figures of speech make abstract concepts tangible and relatable, deepening the emotional and philosophical impact of the poem.


  • Technique: The use of enjambment, where one line flows into the next without a syntactical break, reflects Milton’s ongoing internal struggle and the fluidity of his thoughts.
  • Effect: This creates a sense of continuity and urgency, mirroring the flowing of time and the unceasing nature of personal introspection.


  • Technique: Consonant sounds are repeated, especially in the lines “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
  • Effect: This repetition of sound emphasizes the solemnity and finality of the poem’s conclusion, reinforcing the message of steadfastness in faith.

This detailed dissection of each stanza and the poetic techniques used by Milton in “On His Blindness” reveals not only his mastery over verse but also his deep philosophical and spiritual concerns, making the poem a rich subject for analysis and appreciation.

Poetic Devices used in On His Blindness

Alliteration“And post o’er land and ocean without rest;”
Anaphora“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
ApostropheAddressing Patience as if it were a person.
Consonance“spent” and “bent” – Repetition of the ‘ent’ sound.
EnjambmentLines flowing beyond the first without a grammatical break.
Metaphor“my light is spent” – Comparing his vision to a spent resource.
PersonificationPatience is given a voice to counsel Milton.
Simile– (Not explicitly used in this poem, but often present in Milton’s work).
SynecdocheUsing a part (blindness) to represent whole life challenges.
Symbolism“Light” symbolizes both sight and spiritual illumination.

On His Blindness – FAQs

What is the main theme of ‘On His Blindness’?

  • The main theme is the exploration of personal limitation within the context of divine service and spiritual faith.

How does John Milton deal with his blindness in the poem?

  • Milton processes his blindness by reflecting on his inability to serve God as he once did and eventually understanding that faithfulness and patience are also forms of service.

What literary form is ‘On His Blindness’?

  • It is a Petrarchan sonnet, characterized by its rhyme scheme and volta, or turn in argument, after the eighth line.

Why does Milton introduce the character of Patience in the poem?

  • Patience serves as a comforting and wise figure, teaching Milton that service to God doesn’t always require active deeds; sometimes, it is about steadfast faith and waiting.

On His Blindness Study Guide

Exercise: Identify the poetic devices used in this verse from ‘On His Blindness’. “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.”


  • Alliteration: “Bear his best,” “bid biding.”
  • Metaphor: “mild yoke” represents the gentle commands of God.
  • Personification: “Thousands at his bidding speed” personifies those serving God.
  • Symbolism: “yoke” symbolizes submission to God’s will.
  • Anaphora: “They also serve who only stand and wait” repeats the structure to emphasize the message.