Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Solace and Magic

Dear Everyone:

Here’s the poem I promised you yesterday. It’s pretty clear if you just make allowances for changes in diction. Read it through slowly, and I’ll give you a straightforward synopsis of it afterwards.

On His Blindness
by John Milton

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

Non-poetical rephrasing: When I think about how I’m blind, though I’m not even old yet, and how I dare not write, though I desperately want to and am sure God requires it of me, I foolishly [“fond” used to mean foolish] ask myself, how can God demand that I do something I cannot do? But the patient part of my soul replies: God doesn’t need anything you can give Him. Those who are content with whatever happens to them serve God best. He has thousands of servants to do His bidding. They who patiently wait for the orders that never come serve Him as well.

And if you got the politics of that one, you’re already a Milton scholar! Here’s what was going on. Milton was a Cromwellian. He not only served under Cromwell in an important government post, he spent all his energies writing political tracts, including a defense of Cromwell’s execution of Charles I. Then, when Cromwell died, came the Restoration -- Charles I’s son, Charles II, returned from France and was given the English throne again. Milton was thrown in jail and in serious danger of losing his life.

So there he is, desperate to fight the godless forces of Monarchy and unable to do so. It shows the strength of his character that he was able to find humility in such a fix.

It’s only rarely that a personal decision of morality can be objectively proved the right thing to do. But it happens. Exiled from the political arena which he loved, he went on to write Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, two of the greatest poems in the English language. And even today people who find themselves unable to do that which meant everything to them -- the injured athlete, the defeated politician, and myriad more -- find solace in this poem.

Oh, and you’ve heard people talk about “the magic of words,” I’m sure. Consider this: People can find solace in the poem who would shrug off my rephrasing of it as a pep talk. Why is that? Magic.

All best,


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