Methought I Saw my Late Espoused Saint (Sonnet 23)
by John Milton
Sight and Vision
We know that Milton—the man himself—was blind. That means that if one of his poems has a ton of sight and vision imagery, we should probably perk up our ears and pay close attention. Even if we disagree with the idea that Milton's the speaker in this poem, sight and vision are just about everywhere, and they're super important to our guy.
The speaker's anticipation of "full sight" in heaven tells us that this guy sees heaven as a place where earthly, bodily infirmities (like blindness) will disappear. He portrays spiritual sight as a superior kind of vision to the one that enables us to make out physical features, as he can see his wife's virtues, even if he can't see her face. To sum up, sight in this poem becomes an extended metaphor for a type of spiritual understanding that surpasses physical vision.
- Line 1: With "Methought I saw my late espoused saint" in line 1, the speaker tells us that the subject of the poem will be a vision he had of his wife from beyond the grave. By qualifying this statement with "Methought I saw…" he also throws the reality or origin of that vision into question. Was it really his wife he saw, or just a pale imitation of her? Was it real at all, or was it all in his head?
- Lines 7-8: The speaker states that he hopes to have "full sight" of his wife again in heaven, "without restraint." He's alluding to the Christian idea that heaven is a place in which people will at last see God and one another fully. Since most people agree that Milton is the speaker of this poem, and we know Milton was blind, his hope to have sight again in heaven also alludes to the Christian idea that in heaven, all of our bodily problems will be totally eliminated.
- Line 10: The speaker describes his wife's face in the vision as "veil'd," implying that he does not have full sight of it. This description continues the simile comparing the vision of his wife to Alcestis that began in line 2. The veiling of the speaker's wife's face might symbolize the separation that exists between them, as well as Milton's earthly blindness, which prevented him from ever seeing his second wife's face. Still, it could also be a symbol of the speaker's yet-unsaved state. Since he is still on earth and still sinning, he has not yet achieved the full, heavenly vision achieved by the saints. Yes, this is one multifaceted image, folks.
- Line 10: Also, the speaker describes his sight as "fancied" here, indicating that his vision is not actual, but spiritual.
- Line 10: Despite the veil, the speaker is able to perceive the spiritual qualities of love, sweetness, and goodness shining clearly in his wife's "person" (a word that probably represents the combination of body and soul). The clear visibility of his wife's spiritual qualities is yet another indication that she is now a saint. The barrier between her soul and body has dissolved so that the two match one another. But it also tells us that though this man may be blind, he's still able to see the truly important things—like love and goodness. Maybe having that kind of vision is more important than being able to see if his wife is, say, smiling.
- Line 14: The poem ends with "day brought back my night." The word "night" here is a metaphor for the spiritual darkness of mourning. But it could also symbolize the speaker's physical blindness.