Three Poems by John Milton, okay it is four, again. I could not resist the last one.
On His Blindness
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.”
On His Dead Wife (following the death of his wife after childbirth)
Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Who Jove’s great Son to her glad Husband gave,
Rescu’d from death by force, though pale and faint.
Mine, as whom washt from spot of childbed taint
Purification in the old Law did save,
And such as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in heav’n without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind.
Her face was veil’d, yet to my fancied sight
Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shined
So clear as in no face with more delight.
But O as to embrace me she enclined,
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.
Sonnet to the Nightingale
O nightingale that on yon blooming spray
Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still,
Thou with fresh hopes the lover’s heart dost fill,
While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May.
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of day,
First heard before the shallow cuckoo’s bill,
Portend success in love. O if Jove’s will
Have linked that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate
Foretell my hopeless doom, in some grove nigh;
As thou from year to year hast sung too late
For my relief, yet had’st no reason why.
Whether the muse or love call thee his mate,
Both them I serve, and of their train am I.
On The University Carrier Who Sickn’d In The Time Of His Vacancy, Being Forbid To Go To London, By Reason Of The Plague
Here lies old Hobson, Death hath broke his girt,
And here alas, hath laid him in the dirt,
Or els the ways being foul, twenty to one,
He’s here stuck in a slough, and overthrown.
‘Twas such a shifter, that if truth were known,
Death was half glad when he had got him down;
For he had any time this ten yeers full,
Dodg’d with him, betwixt Cambridge and the Bull.
And surely, Death could never have prevail’d,
Had not his weekly cours of carriage fail’d;
But lately finding him so long at home,
And thinking now his journeys end was come,
And that he had tane up his latest Inne,
In the kind office of a Chamberlin
Shew’d him his room where he must lodge that night,
Pull’d off his Boots, and took away the light:
If any ask for him, it shall be sed,
Hobson has supt, and ‘s newly gon to bed.
I could not resist this last, the demise of Hobson. Do I spot humour and simple ‘fondness’ for a character? Anyway, I used to know Slough ( a town threatened by Betjeman’s ‘bombs’ but then recanted) and understand how he might have felt…..but then so did Milton, though it was a few miles away. Actually it is doubtful if ‘Slough’ existed in his day and a few miles could seem a long way! And of course, I deliberately misinterpret Milton’s slough for the town…. apologies to Slough.
slough: definition: ‘A place of deep mud or mire’; ‘a state of dejection’: as noted by Longman Concise English Dictionary :
slough (Saxon word): ‘A deep miry place; a hole full of dirt’: as defined by Dr Samuel Johnson’s first edition: A Dictionary of the English Language
Some places near Slough: Eton (College), Windsor (Castle), Dorney Wick and Upton (both ‘Royal’ or connected residences in historic times). Stoke Poges(re Gray’s Elegy)
Odd facts: William Herschel built wooden astronomical telescopes in his garden in Slough. I read somewhere that much of his significant data was collected and minutely recorded by his sister so she should be accorded a similar respect. (Perhaps, in the astronomical world, she is, I do hope so). He/they should be more highly and widely regarded: for further information see the link: William Herschel or Contact Slough Museum.
What is left of ‘Montem mound’ was once used as a place for Eton College boys to beg (but only one day a year, apparently) from travellers along the A4 (Main London to Bristol road for millennia), which is also not many yards from the site of a highway-man’s operating area. Or at least where he was hanged for said robberies of people and horse and coaches…. Ledger was his name. Also: Charles Dickens rented a cottage for Nelly Ternan in Slough High Street for a few years. I have read these facts but have failed to give bibliographic detail, for which I apologise.
See other Milton Poems on sites in Useful links, or books: Longman Annotated English Poets, Oxford Book of English Verse, etc etc.