By Francis Anthony Govia
Perhaps the greatest sonnet ever written, and certainly my personal favorite, is “On his Blindness,”’ one of the fine works of the English poet John Milton. When I was a child, I happened upon that poem, in a book that had long since lost its appeal, and was tossed into a trash heap by its owner. At that time, no one thought about recycling paper, but for my curiosity, the book would have been incinerated.
The book was a fine one in its day. Its hardcover was stout, and red, and its spine, which was then tattered, had threads in it.
Inside of the book were the tell tale signs of something that had a taste for its pages, and all over, were tiny little round holes that were eaten through from front to back.
Thankfully, Milton’s beautiful sonnet was spared, along with a few notable verses by other great poets of the past like Longfellow.
I took this book home with me to feast on its pages, but in a more polite way than the creatures before me had done, and read the poems within it through the joys, and at other times, the sad days of my childhood. Nearly all of these poems have since left my memory, but not Milton’s. It has been an enduring part of my life; that along with the prayer of Jabez, and together, they once served as bookends in a very special space in my office in Manhattan.
Just about every Believer knows the story of Jabez. He was the one who was born in pain, who cried out and asked God: Oh, would thou bless me indeed, enlarge my territory, keep my hands from evil, and cause me no pain. Hence, God granted him his wish. But few it seems still give thought to, or mention, the wonderful sonnet of Milton.
Both Milton and Jabez cried out to God. Milton asked for light “to serve his Maker” which represents an opportunity to see, or a strength of purpose to give graciously. His aspirations are written more subtly than that of Jabez; whose intent is expressed with more directness. Both men, however, expressed fervor to do what appear righteous, or noble. Whereas Milton seemed resigned to wait in the end for direction from God, Jabez’s prayer is more resolute and urgent.
On days when ordinary men laugh in your face at aspirations that you hold so dear, it is important to remember the things that give you inspiration and form that closure. Today, I am in need of my bookends.
When I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light denied,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.