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Methought I Saw my Late Espoused Saint (Sonnet 23)

Methought I Saw my Late Espoused Saint (Sonnet 23)


by John Milton

Purity and Virtue

Symbol Analysis

This lady is not your average wife. She's a saint. As such, she is entirely good, pure, and virtuous. In fact, she's so virtuous in death that her goodness is practically shining out of her every pore. All that bright shiny awesomeness even gives our poor, blind speaker, a new kind of vision. So yeah, purity and virtue are pretty much the cat's meow in this poem.

  • Line 1: The speaker calls his wife a "saint." This label immediately places her among the angels, implying that his wife was so virtuous that there's no doubt at all in his mind that she has gone to heaven.
  • Line 5-6: Using a simile, the speaker compares his wife to an female figure from the Hebrew Bible who has been ritually purified after childbirth. He's referencing the death of Milton's wife in childbirth, sure, but he's also pointing to the fact that now that she's dead, she's free from the "taint" of her earthly body. And she's free from sin, which means that no "spot" exists on her soul.
  • Line 9: With "came vested all in white, pure as her mind," the speaker transforms the white clothing his wife wears into a symbol of her inner purity.
  • Line 10: The speaker describes his wife as "veil'd." That sounds like some bridal imagery to Shmoop, which highlights the fact that these two were only very recently married, which makes her death all the sadder. And of course, brides wear white because they're supposedly chaste, which reinforces the purity this speaker associates with his wife.
  • Line 11: The speaker's able to see love, sweetness, and goodness shining in his wife's "person" despite the fact that her face is veiled (11). By saying they shined "as in no face with more delight," he seems to be saying that these spiritual virtues are way better than any physical features he might be able to make out, if he weren't blind.

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