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Historical Context in On His Blindness

Historical Context Examples in On His Blindness:

Text of the Poem

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"God doth not need Either man's work or his own gifts..."   (Text of the Poem)

This line draws from the Calvinist belief in predestination. Unlike Catholic doctrine, which claimed one could repent in order to save their soul, Calvinists believed that works on earth had no bearing on one’s salvation. People were predestined for either damnation or salvation at the time of their birth. God therefore did not need “man’s works” because only belief revealed one’s internal piety.

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"one talent..."   (Text of the Poem)

In line 6, the speaker suggests that his “one talent’ is to present “my true account.” This signals to the reader that the speaker’s talent is writing, an activity that would have been nearly impossible to do in Early Modern England without sight. Because Milton himself went blind in 1652, this poem is conventionally read as autobiographical.

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"To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account..."   (Text of the Poem)

Milton's sonnet concerns the universal desire to discover and develop one's talents. The poem suggests that each of us is given one or several gifts which we are obliged to identify, utilize, and develop throughout our lives or else experience disappointment, failure and frustration. The Bhagavad-Gita says something similar and invokes Milton's idea of a "maker" to be served:

In the beginning
The Lord of beings
Created all men,
To each his duty.
'Do this,' He said,
'And you shall prosper.'

The problem for many of us is to discover our talent—or talents. This process may involve a lot of trial and error. But it is obviously a matter of the utmost importance. Milton was neither the first nor last person to consider the great importance of putting one's gifts to work. Many thinkers of the past have their their attentions to this topic:

Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness.

—Thomas Carlyle (1798–1881)

A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1802–1883)

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