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John Milton (1608-1674)

Sonnet XXII: To Cyriack Skinner


              1Cyriack, this three years' day these eyes, though clear
              2     To outward view of blemish or of spot,
              3     Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;
              4     Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
              5Of sun or moon or star throughout the year,
              6     Or man or woman. Yet I argue not
              7     Against Heav'n's hand or will, not bate a jot
              8     Of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer
              9Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
            10     The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied
            11     In liberty's defence, my noble task,
            12Of which all Europe talks from side to side.
            13     This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask
            14     Content, though blind, had I no better guide.

Notes

1] "... to external appearance they [my eyes] are as completely without injury, as clear and bright, without the semblance of a cloud, as the eyes of those whose sight is most perfect" (Milton, Second Defence). Composed not earlier than 1655. First printed in Phillips's Life of Milton. Cyriack Skinner, a grandson of the celebrated jurist Sir Edward Coke, had been one of Milton's pupils and remained his faithful friend.
this three years day: three years ago today.

6] argue: contend.

8] bear up: a nautical phrase, put the helm up, so as to bring the vessel into the direction of the wind (but with a memory also of the sense, "keep up one's spirits").

10] conscience: consciousness;
them: his eyes, i.e., their sight. 10-12.
Lines 10-12: Warned of his danger, Milton had deliberately sacrificed his much impaired vision to write his Defence of the English People, a work which spread his fame on the continent.

13] vain mask: empty pageant.

14] better guide: religious consolation and support (cf. Sonnet XIX).


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: 1655
Form: sonnet
Rhyme: abbaabbacdcdcd


Other poems by John Milton