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John Milton (1608-1674)

Sonnet XXIII: Methought I Saw my Late Espoused Saint


              1Methought I saw my late espoused saint
              2     Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave,
              3     Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
              4     Rescu'd from death by force, though pale and faint.
              5Mine, as whom wash'd from spot of child-bed taint
              6     Purification in the old Law did save,
              7     And such as yet once more I trust to have
              8     Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,
              9Came vested all in white, pure as her mind;
            10     Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight
            11     Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin'd
            12So clear as in no face with more delight.
            13     But Oh! as to embrace me she inclin'd,
            14     I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night.

Notes

1] Late espoused saint: Katharine Woodcock, Milton's second wife, whom he married in 1656, when already blind. She gave birth to a daughter in October, 1657 (who also died), and she died in February, 1658. Saint bears witness to her piety and gentleness.

2] Alcestis: In the Alcestis of Euripides, the heroine dies but is rescued from the lower world and restored to Admetus ("her glad husband") by Hercules, the son of Zeus ("Jove's great son").

5-6] The ritual of purification after a birth is set forth in Leviticus 12: 7-12. The blind Milton had never seen Katharine. She presents herself in his dream with every attribute of love and goodness, but veiled (like Alcestis), and clad in white (cf. "What are these which are arrayed in white robes? ... These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb''--Revelation 7: 13-14: the true purification), white symbolizing also her purity of mind. As she here appears, Milton hopes to have full sight of her in heaven.

14] day brought back my night: the night of his blindness as well as of his loss.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: John Milton, Poems, 2nd edn. (London: Thomas Dring, 1673). Facs. edn. Complete Poetical Works reproduced in photographic facsimile, comp. by H. F. Fletcher (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1943-48). PR 3551 F52 ROBA
First publication date: 1673
RPO poem editor: Hugh MacCallum, A. S. P. Woodhouse
RP edition: 3RP 1.238.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/24

Composition date: 1658
Form: sonnet
Rhyme: abbaabbacdcdcd


Other poems by John Milton