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Vision, from "Sonnet XIX, On His Blindness," a poem by John Milton

Subthemes: Good Eyesight, Blindness, Degeneration, Disease, and Injury,

John Milton fell totally blind by age 43. Brilliant, erudite, and with years ahead of him to write and create inimitable poetry, he laments in Sonnet XIX, On His Blindness, how his light is spent, plunging him into this dark world. Nevertheless, his deep religious beliefs bolstered him despite his misfortune. Other themes of Vision emerge.

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
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 mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Good Eyesight: Milton dejectedly fretted that he knew he was light denied, without tests or diagnoses of a doctor. Today, elaborate equipment allows ophthalmologists to test visual acuity and optical health accurately and quickly and recommend steps to take. Most commonly, they handle diminished vision. The standard for normal vision is referred to as 20/20, meaning for each eye, what a person with normal eyesight can read from 20 feet you can also. During the examination, patients often take eyedrops to dilate the pupil and let the doctor shine a light shine into the eyeball. Color blindness affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world.

Blindness: The cause of Milton’s blindness is debated but bilateral retinal detachment or glaucoma are likely culprits. Humans lose sight permanently for many reasons. As of 2012, 1.02 million Americans were blind. Eyes may be damaged irreparably by aging, a blow, disease or illness, or by a failure of an ocular component. Blind people may use a cane to check what is in front of them or walk with a trained seeing-eye dog. They may learn to read the raised tactile symbols of Braille, which can accommodate multiple languages. Organizations arrange for people to read books for the blind and cross-walks on streets assist them. Many blind people develop more acute senses of hearing or smell to compensate for

that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless.

Momentary blindness results from a bright flash of light or staring too long at the sun or an arc light. For various reasons, millions of people could wear an eyepatch.

Degeneration, Disease, and Injury: Among the more common maladies that can afflict our eyes are glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and astigmatism. Astigmatism (a common and generally treatable imperfection in the curvature of the eye that causes blurred distance and near vision) occurs when either the front surface of the eye (cornea) or the lens inside the eye has mismatched curves. Laser surgery can correct cataracts, glaucoma, and other maladies. Bulging eyes are most commonly caused by hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland). Children often pick up pinkeye from other sufferers. Some people periodically suffer from ocular migraines or scotomas (a partial loss of vision or blind spot in an otherwise normal visual field).

You don’t have to be Kent in King Lear to suffer eye damage. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that every day about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment.

 

One of the brightest lights of English poetry, John Milton fell into the stygian darkness of blindness. He despaired at the loss of the sense that most informed him and enabled him to craft his masterpieces. He didn’t need a doctor to point out the obvious nor could doctors of that day cope with what robbed him of sight.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of Thinking, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About.

We invite you to read about other poems discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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