Milton (1658) Critics continue to debate the subject of the sonnet by John Milton "Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint." While probably one of Milton's first two wives, who both died of complications of childbirth, on the basis of lines 4-5, "Mine as whom washt from spot of child-bed taint," even that theory remains under question. Those who accept the theory then argue whether the subject is Mary Powell Milton, who died three days after giving birth, or Katherine Woodcock Milton, who died three months afterward. An additional theory holds that because the term Saint indicates simply a "soul in heaven," any interpretation is further complicated.
Critics note Milton's reference to the classical character of Alcestis, Admetus's wife and the title character in Euripides' play, "Methought I saw my late espoused Saint / Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave," to suggest Milton's general, rather than personal, interest in the topic. Admetus does not recognize his wife, who had a veil over her face, which Milton notes in line 10, writing, "Her face was veil'd." The second part of that line, "yet to my fancied sight," has been interpreted by some to indicate Milton's blindness. others believe the entire poem references the donna angelicata of Dante and Petrarch, which was the feminine poetic ideal, a heavenly vision in concrete form, explaining the reference to Milton's fancy, or imagination.
The sonnet remains appealing for its simple descriptive elements of a dream. The final four lines read:
Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin'd So clear, as in no face with more delight. But o, as to embrace me she inclin'd, I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night.
In these lines Milton expresses the plight of the blind through use of paradox, as the light of day gives way to the dark of night. The speaker's suggestion that his vision returns only in the dream state makes his a sympathetic voice, one filled with longing for the touch, or embrace, of a person present only during repose.
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