“When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” is one of the most famous works written by John Milton in the middle of the 17th century. Compared to contemporary poetry and other Italian sonnets, this poem is characterized by complex syntax and the evaluation of serious themes related to human illnesses and disabilities. At the same time, the author follows the traditions of Petrarchan poetry in terms of the chosen rhyme and meter. These formal features underline the meaning of the poem, connecting religious beliefs, career interests, and personal concerns. Milton’s sonnet is a perfect combination of allusions, caesuras, and metaphors delivered through a well-defined rhyme and meter to demonstrate the author’s fears, hopes, and worries about the future.
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The rhyme scheme introduced by Milton in his poem reflects the main elements of Petrarchan or Italian poetry. There are 14 lines in “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent.” Instead of following a classic structure with eight lines for the first part and six lines for the second part, Milton uses four separate couplets: ABBA-ABBA-CDE-CDE. He does not break the rules and makes sure that lines 1, 4, 5, and 8 are alike, while other lines are improved by caesuras. At the end of the poem, the number of caesuras increases, “Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best/ Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state” (Milton, n.d.). It seems that the author is confused and worried that his male qualities and strengths could be questioned due to his disability. He tries to rebel and change something, but he is bound like “Land and Ocean,” and the only thing he can do is “stand and wait” (Milton, n.d.). This rhyming pattern proves the meaning of the poem as a protest of the author against nature and physiology.
Another literary element that helps understand Milton’s message better is a rhythm meter, which is iambic pentameter in this case. The major purpose of this choice is to make all lines have an ear-pleasing rhythm. There are five unaccented syllables following an accented syllable in each line. Although not all iambs perfectly fit each other, the sonnet contains rather appealing beats that are clear for the reader. The author says, “Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,/ And that one Talent which is death to hide” and uses the rhyme to veil his sorrow and anxiety (Milton, n.d.). The metaphor of “light” is one of the strongest literary devices in the sonnet to represent the life before and after his sight problems. Its rhyming in most of the lines shows how Milton hopes for a better future for himself, but he does not resist the darkness.
Finally, there is an excellent comparison of human abilities and disabilities within the chosen rhyme, meter, and literary devices. Not many poets are able to apply allusions and prove their appropriateness in delivering the meaning. Milton gives a number of hints for readers and expects them to understand that some of his questions to God remain unanswered. People have the “light,” but they cannot control it; “man’s work” matters, but “God doth not need” it; it is necessary to speed up, but society has to “stand and wait” (Milton, n.d.). All these referrals to the Scripture show that some things are impossible to avoid, and nothing except acceptance is required.
To conclude, “When I consider how my light is spent” is not a simple sonnet about Milton’s suffering and disappointment with his life and blindness. Each element of the poem is properly chosen and developed to emphasize his message to the reader about the inevitability and ambiguity of human life. Metaphors, allusions, and caesuras strengthen the story’s content and create a solid picture of how people should accept light and darkness at physical and emotional levels.
Milton, J. (n.d.). Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent. Poetry Foundation. Web.