Today is the birthday of John Milton, 1608-1674. In his honor:
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
Lodg'd 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."
Here's another of my Milton favorites:
For Whom The Bell Tolls
PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he
knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so
much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my
state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The
church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she
does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action
concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which
is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.
And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is
of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is
not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language;
and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several
translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness,
some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every
translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves
again for that library where every book shall lie open to one
another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not
upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this
bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the
door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in
which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were
mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers
first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring
first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of
this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to
make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be
ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him
that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that
minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.
Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes
off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his
ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove
it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this
world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece
of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by
the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's
death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for
thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing
of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but
must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the
misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness
if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath
enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and
ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man
carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none
coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he
travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not
current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our
home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to
death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a
mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his
affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this
consideration of another's danger I take mine own into
contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my
God, who is our only security.
From "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" (1623), XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris - "Now, this bell tolling softly for another, says to me: Thou must die."
Les, sorry but if that is a Milton favourite why does it say John Donne at the bottom? Or is it a favourite of Milton, not by him?
Sorry, Linda, it's been one of those weeks. You are of course correct!
Those of us who arn't suffering from the dreaded lurgy directly are suffering from doing the work of those who are. Which category are you in Les? I hope the week improves for you.
I'm probably in the latter category. As far as the post goes, it was my error in
thinking the poem was written by John Milton, rather than Donne.
MILTON! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.
and besides, you could have blown out the candles on your cake!
(I too once referred to blindness in connection with Donne, but it was Milton who lost his sight.)
I was surprised to find that John Donne was a contemporary of Shakespeare and lived earlier than John Milton. In my mind I had always thought it was the other way around. Go figure. This timeline comes in handy for those of us
with bad timing.
What a wonderful resource, Les, thanks so much for posting the link.
As an aside, I was surprised to learn recently that John Donne sailed with the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh to Cadiz in 1596 and to the Azores in 1597, in the hope of capturing the Spanish treasure fleet.
Makes sense- after all, you can't make a living in poetry.
I think I need to create a new folder for useful links provided by Les.
Donne was raised as a Catholic and so has to be before the Puritan Milton (it was illegal to be a practising Catholic by Milton's day.)
I have to share this poem by Gavin Ewart with you all...
On the Tercentenary of Milton's Death
E. Jarvis Thribb (17) and Keith's Mum
don't reckon you;
even students of English get lost
in your syntax,
the long sentences and the Greek idioms
('he knew to build')
confuse the lovers of what's simple,
classical allusions just fill them with boredom.
was that your magniloquence led on to Wordsworth
and Coleridge, poets
who could write (or talk) the hind leg off a donkey.
You didn't have much use for humour,
wit vanished early
from your verse (in any sense) and rhyme
you thought barbarous;
perhaps in your day nothing much was funny,
as now in Ulster,
and how could you have the needed detachment?
But like a rocket
you took off for outer space and the SF demons,
you really did go
into overdrive, no short-haul aircraft,
medium range bomber
or helicopter, but a giant blockbuster.
So for this kind of verse, which has a geniune grandeur,
you are the best one--
Wordsworth's dim mountains are only molehills,
I think, compared.
You truly invented your own mighty language--
like Ulysses' bow,
nobody else could handle it; it bent them.
Of course you took sides
and suffered for it; if pride was your fault, still
you had cause for that.
The young undergraduate of Christ's College
combing his long blond hair
with an ivory comb? As well as arrogance, beauty.