When I Consider How My Light Is Spent

A poem by John Milton:

When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
   And that one Talent which is death to hide
   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest 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’er Land and Ocean without rest:
   They also serve who only stand and wait.”
I really like this poem, and often find myself repeating it as I follow certain routines, like walking to the garden every morning as the sun rises. I think the poem is about the automatic existential crisis of being human, but especially the one of being so in a civilization that is, at its core, inhuman. Bearing such a “mild yoke” is a lot to ask, even before any discussion of talent and labor. While I don’t think this yoke is hung over our necks by some supernatural, all-powerful being—but instead is a simple function of having brains capable of realizing our material limits, i.e. that we’ll some day die—it is, nevertheless, a very present and, dare I say, universal burden. What does it mean to be human? Or, as a friend once wrote in a letter to me about not following our natural inclinations to be outside, seek sunlight, eat real food, and so on—in short, to put ourselves into cubicles: Why are we constantly at odds with ourselves?

2 thoughts on “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent

  1. Pingback: “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” Revisited | Coming Soon: A Vast Desert

  2. Pingback: “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent,” Reconsidered | Coming Soon: A Vast Desert

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