(1652?) Probably the most well-known of John Milton's sonnets, "When I consider how my light is spent (Sonnet xIx)" focuses on the poet's loss of sight and his resultant fear that he may no longer be able to serve God in a blind state. The date 1652 remains its common dating, as that was the year in which Milton became totally blind. The first line adopted as its title, the Elizabethan sonnet employs the extended metaphor of light to represent sight.
The speaker begins by musing on the contrast between the way he spent the days when he could see with his present days, "in this dark world and wide." He notes there exists one "Talent which is death to hide," alluding to the parable in Matthew 25 of the talents a master entrusted to three servants before leaving on a trip. A talent was worth approximately $1,000 in silver content, but more in buying power. When the master returned, he rewarded the first two servants, who invested their talents and returned a profit to their master. However, one servant had hidden the talents away for safekeeping because of fear. According to the King James Version of the Bible, the master called that servant "wicked and slothful" for not assuring that his talents multiplied in his absence. He then not only removed the talents from the errant servant to present them to the obedient servants, he ordered, "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The parable offers an analogy to Christ's leaving behind the faithful to use their talents to convince additional humans to follow the Christian faith. Those who do not do so risk "outer darkness" or spiritual death.
As Milton continues, he describes his talent as "Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent / To serve therewith my Maker." Critics interpret the poet's talent as his writing. While Milton had continued to write with help, his concerns are real because of his now-total loss of sight. The speaker notes that although he has used up his light, his Soul still desires service. He wants to "present" his "true account," lest his Maker return to "chide" him. He confesses that he would like to ask, "Doth God exact day-labor, light denied," expressing, if not anger, at least frustration that he has been left to labor in the dark. However, patience guides his thoughts to present an answer to the unasked question, "God doth not need / Either man's work or his own gifts." In contrast to the speaker's desperation, patience adopts a gentle tone, explaining that God does not need man's talents, originally his gift to man, handed back to him. Rather, " 'who best / Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.'" Now service is cast in the guise of suffering through figurative language (figure of speech) comparing the suffering speaker to a beast of burden. In describing the burden caused by his blindness as "mild," Milton stresses the need for humility in the face of trials and makes clear that suffering in Christ's name and thus in some small way sharing his condition is a positive action, because God's "'. . . State / is Kingly.'"
Finally, Milton shows that he may draw sustenance from the fact that a man can serve, regardless of his condition. Patience's gentle murmur into the poet's ear continues, as his 12th and 13th lines note that hosts of angels are available to carry out holy orders; they at God's "'bidding speed / And post o'er Land and Ocean without rest.'" However, the last line confirms, humans need not compete with such powers that remain beyond their abilities when the voice states, "They also serve who only stand and wait.'"
"WHEN LOVELY WOMAN STOOPS TO FOLLY" Oliver Goldsmith (1766) Oliver GoldSMITH's two-stanza poem "When Lovely Woman Stoops to Folly" offers few surprises. In its eight lines with rhyme scheme abab Goldsmith eschews suggestion to state that if a woman loses her good reputation, she might as well die. The poem appeared in Goldsmith's sole, and quite famous, novel, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), in which the title character believes for a time that his daughter had been lured into a false wedding ceremony, was deserted, and ultimately died of grief. While this sentiment represents Goldsmith's typical hyperbole, it also acts as an example of the mid-18th-century fascination of poets with death and suicide, as well as the results of nonconformity with society's unwritten laws, including those demanding purity of women.
The first stanza asks what may be done to rescue the woman who "stoops to folly," that is, engages in sexual dalliance, only to be rejected by her lover:
When lovely woman stoops to folly, And finds too late that men betray, What charm can soothe her melancholy, What art can wash her guilt away?
The speaker does not deny the duplicity of men, but neither do men suffer the melancholy and guilt foisted onto the lovely woman, at least not while she lives. When Goldsmith uses the term art, he means "creative idea" and asks what might be strong enough to cleanse her guilt. The second stanza answers his question. A manner by which she may cover her guilt and hide her shame, as well as invoke regret and remorse in her lover, is to take her own life:
The only art her guilt to cover To hide her shame from every eye, To give repentance to her lover, And wring his bosom—is to die.
Feminist critics would note the structure of male power over female. The only manner by which the woman can subvert that power is by taking her life. only then will her lover feel the remorse, regret, and sense of loss that she felt from her lover's rejection. Goldsmith suggests that she suffers an emotional death, and the physical form will follow. The poet Phoebe Cary wrote a parody of Goldsmith's poem titled "When Lovely Woman," which preserved its original form and theme. Additional parodies continue to appear and may consider completely unrelated topics. As an exam ple a Norman, Oklahoma, newspaper, The Norman Transcript, ran an article titled "When Column-Writer Stoops to Folly" in an August 2005 edition.
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