There is one major reason why I am an English major. I get into English class, read the assigned poem by Milton and fall in love. I’ve never been a big fan of John Milton, honestly. His poetry is great, just takes a little bit more analysis than I want to practice on a regular basis. Actually, I take that approach with almost all poetry. I like reading it in short sittings, just a few poems at a time. So this was perfect, exactly the setting I need to fall in love with a poem. Anyway, enough commentary. Enjoy!
Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave,
Whom Jove’s great son to her glad husband gave,
Rescu’d from death by force, though pale and faint.
Mine, as whom wash’d from spot of child-bed taint
Purification in the old Law did save,
And such as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in Heaven 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 shin’d
So clear as in no face with more delight.
But Oh! as to embrace me she inclin’d,
I wak’d, she fled, and day brought back my night.
This poem is filled with allusion and all types of literary devices that my professor wants me to notice. But here is what stood out to me: It is full of emotion. From my scant knowledge, I’d always considered Milton a serious (and boring) guy. However, this poem is full of pathos. It portrays a man passionately in love with his wife and depressed at her death. Added to that, you have the fact of his blindness, leading to that magnificent last line. That was my initial feeling on the poem.
Just like Milton, I have woken to disappointment. I did a little bit of Internet research. As far as I can tell, Milton was very serious and stern, possibly even arrogant. His marriages (3 of them), were not necessarily romantic. The wife he is apparently writing about was married to him for less than a year. Milton himself was a strong supporter of divorce, making me skeptical about his commitment, both emotional and legally. All of this makes it seem that the emotion displayed in the poem may be somewhat feigned. In a technical manner, the poem is still masterful. But for me, a lot of the attraction to the poem was the emotion, the imagined depression of a heartbroken, lonely husband. Withdrawing that, it is far less powerful.