Study Guide

When I Consider How My Light is Spent (On His Blindness) Themes

By John Milton

  • Guilt and Blame

    The speaker's mind is a big ball of guilt and confusion. He takes pride in his vast intelligence, but worries that he failed to use his "light" when he had it. You can imagine him saying, "How could I have known my vision was going to run out?!" His soul "bends" toward service of God like a flower bends toward the sun, but he is no longer fit for the kinds of intensive work that he might have done. He hopes that God does not blame him like the angry lord from the "Parable of the Talents" in the Bible.

    Questions About Guilt and Blame

    1. What is the speaker's "talent," and what kind of "use" does he think he can make of it?
    2. Why does the speaker think that God punish him for not working in darkness?
    3. In the "Parable of the Talents" in Matthew 25, is the lord meant to be a stand-in for God? If not, is the speaker misinterpreting the parable?
    4. What's going on with that fated question? Does the speaker ask it, or not? Why is the question so foolish that patience must prevent the speaker from saying it?

    Chew on This

    The speaker mourns the loss of his "talents" in the political sphere and not in the practice of poetry.

    Patience rescues the speaker from a vicious cycle that begins with guilty feelings toward himself and ends with blaming God for maintaining unreasonable expectations.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Before going blind, the speaker has high hopes for what he might accomplish in the future. He says he would have been a supremely useful servant of God. But we can't know if his motives are truly selfless, or if he is an ambitious guy who now struggles to come to terms with a personal upheaval. As he looks to the future, he compares his situation to the third servant from the New Testament "Parable of the Talents" in Matthew 25. Because he has not increased his master's wealth, this servant is cast into the darkness. Considering that the speaker already feels he lives in the darkness, what further punishment does he expect? At the end of the poem, patience gives him a new plan: he should wait until God calls on him to serve.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. Do you think the speaker really wants to serve God when he has his vision, or is his definition of "service of God" also a service to himself? (Sorry, but sometimes you've got to ask the skeptical questions.)
    2. Does the speaker worry he will be punished like the third servant in the parable? How would he be punished?
    3. What is the speaker supposed to wait for at the end of the poem? Is he waiting for the eternal judgment or just for further instructions from God?

    Chew on This

    The poem upholds the Protestant idea that worldly labor is necessary for the benefit of the individual soul and not for the realization of God's kingdom on earth.

    The speaker believes he has nothing more to fear from God except "chiding," because he has already been cast into "darkness."

  • Principles

    We've all heard the homespun wisdom "Patience is a virtue," which sounds almost mystical but is really like saying, "Blue is a color." The more interesting question is, what's a virtue? A virtue is a character trait that helps you achieve some desired good or outcome. Virtues are central to Christian theology. The speaker desires to serve God, but his impatience and sense of wounded pride threaten to get in his way by leading him to rashly criticize his "Maker." The virtue of patience helps him to remember that it's not all about him. Just because he thinks he has something to offer doesn't mean that God needs him to act right away.

    Questions About Principles

    1. Have you ever been about to do something foolish when you felt like some other part of your character stepped in to stop you?
    2. Why is patience such an important virtue? What other virtues does it make possible?
    3. Do you think the speaker is guilty of being prideful at the start of the poem? What about at the end?
    4. How would you evaluate the argument made by "patience"? Do you agree with the idea that everyone has his or her own "yoke" to bear?

    Chew on This

    The speaker's fault in the first section of the poem is not merely impatience; it is that he misunderstands the nature of God's justice.

    The fundamental principle upheld by the poem is endurance of misfortune, of which patience is only a part.

  • Religion

    John Milton was a Puritan who supported Oliver Cromwell's republican commonwealth after the execution of King Charles I of England. During this period, politics and religion were tied closely together, so that being "useful" to the government meant being "useful" to God, at least for Milton. The poem displays Milton's encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible but also his reforming instincts. Milton is not afraid to challenge the supposed moral of the New Testament "Parable of the Talents" by pointing out the difference between God and the lord from the story. The sonnet gives expression to intense religious emotions, but its rational and rhetorical qualities are equally important.

    Questions About Religion

    1. If Milton was against the English monarchy, why does he compare God to a king? How would you interpret the sentence, "His state is kingly"?
    2. Does the poem give any idea of how God conveys his will to his subjects? How do people know how to do his "bidding"?
    3. Does it seem like the speaker's desire to work for God stems from his wish to avoid being "chided"?

    Chew on This

    Patience contrasts God as "king" with the lord from the "Parable of the Talents." If God were really like the lord in the parable, He would be profiting from humanity.

    The poem argues that God will eventually reveal a person's vocation without her having to actively search for it.