'Sonnet 19' by John Milton

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The Poetical Works of John MiltonXIXWhen 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."

Editor 1 Interpretation

John Milton's Sonnet 19: A Deep Dive

John Milton, widely regarded as one of the greatest poets in English literature, wrote a number of masterpieces during the 17th century. Among his works, Sonnet 19 stands as a shining example of his poetic brilliance and his ability to explore complex themes with eloquence and depth. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into Sonnet 19, analyzing its structure, literary devices, themes, and historical context to understand its significance and beauty.

The Structure and Form of Sonnet 19

Sonnet 19 is a classic English sonnet, consisting of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. It follows the rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CDCD EE, which is typical of the Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnet form. The first eight lines, or the octave, present a problem or a question, while the last six lines, or the sestet, offer a solution or an answer. Sonnet 19 adheres to this structure, with the first eight lines posing a question about mortality and the sestet providing an answer that celebrates the power of poetic immortality.

The Literary Devices in Sonnet 19

Milton employs a variety of literary devices in Sonnet 19 to create a powerful and poignant effect. One of the most notable devices is the use of allusion, a technique where the poet references a well-known literary or historical figure or event to evoke a particular mood or meaning. In Sonnet 19, Milton alludes to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, who were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. He also alludes to the classical myth of Orpheus, the legendary musician who journeyed to the underworld to bring back his dead wife Eurydice. By invoking these powerful stories of loss and separation, Milton sets a somber tone for the poem and emphasizes the fragility of human life.

Another literary device Milton employs in Sonnet 19 is imagery, which is the use of vivid sensory details to create a mental picture or evoke an emotional response. Throughout the poem, he uses a range of striking images to describe the fleeting nature of human life and the enduring power of poetry. For example, in the first quatrain, he compares human life to a "fading rose" and a "summer's day," both of which are beautiful but short-lived. In the sestet, he uses the image of a "living record" to describe the immortality of poetry, which can preserve the memory of a person long after their death.

Milton also employs the literary device of paradox in Sonnet 19, which is the use of seemingly contradictory concepts to convey a deeper truth or insight. In the second quatrain, he describes how "death and all-oblivious enmity/Shall you pace forth," suggesting that even death and oblivion will ultimately fail to erase the poet's memory. This paradoxical idea emphasizes the power of poetry to transcend time and preserve the memory of a person long after their death.

The Themes of Sonnet 19

Sonnet 19 explores several themes that are central to Milton's poetic vision and his worldview. One of the primary themes is mortality, or the idea that all living things are subject to death and decay. Throughout the poem, Milton emphasizes the fleeting nature of human life and its vulnerability to the ravages of time. He compares life to a "fading rose" and a "summer's day," both of which are beautiful but short-lived. This theme of mortality is further reinforced by the allusions to Adam and Eve and Orpheus, both of whom experience loss and separation due to death.

Another theme that emerges in Sonnet 19 is the power of poetry to transcend time and preserve the memory of a person long after their death. Milton presents the idea that poetry can serve as a "living record" that can immortalize a person's name and deeds. By doing so, he suggests that poetry can offer a kind of immortality that is not subject to the ravages of time or the limitations of the physical world.

The Historical Context of Sonnet 19

To fully appreciate the significance of Sonnet 19, it is important to understand its historical context. Milton wrote the poem during the 17th century, a time of great political and social upheaval in England. The country was embroiled in a civil war between the royalists and the parliamentarians, and the monarchy was ultimately overthrown in 1649, leading to the establishment of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. During this turbulent period, poetry and literature played a significant role in shaping public opinion and influencing political and social change.

Milton was a staunch supporter of the parliamentary cause and used his poetry to champion the ideals of freedom, democracy, and individual liberty. In Sonnet 19, he celebrates the power of poetry to transcend the limitations of the physical world and preserve the memory of a person long after their death. By doing so, he suggests that poetry can serve as a powerful tool for social and political change, one that can inspire future generations to strive for a better world.


In Sonnet 19, John Milton creates a powerful and poignant meditation on the themes of mortality and poetic immortality. Through his use of allusion, imagery, paradox, and other literary devices, he evokes a sense of the fleeting nature of human life and the enduring power of poetry to preserve the memory of a person long after their death. By placing the poem in its historical context, we also gain a deeper understanding of its significance as a reflection of Milton's broader artistic and political vision. Overall, Sonnet 19 stands as a testament to Milton's poetic genius and his ability to capture the essence of the human experience with eloquence and depth.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

John Milton's Sonnet 19 is a classic piece of poetry that has stood the test of time. It is a beautiful and powerful work that explores the themes of time, mortality, and the power of the written word. In this analysis, we will delve into the meaning and significance of this sonnet, examining its structure, language, and imagery.

The sonnet begins with the speaker addressing Time, personifying it as a "grim wolf" that devours everything in its path. The speaker laments that Time has already taken so much from him, including his youth and his physical beauty. He acknowledges that he cannot escape Time's grasp, but he also recognizes that there is one thing that can transcend Time's power: the written word.

The speaker then turns his attention to his own writing, declaring that it will outlive him and continue to inspire future generations. He compares his writing to a "monument" that will stand the test of time and serve as a testament to his legacy. He acknowledges that his physical body will eventually decay and be forgotten, but his words will live on forever.

The structure of this sonnet is a traditional Shakespearean sonnet, consisting of three quatrains and a final couplet. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, with each quatrain exploring a different aspect of the theme. The final couplet serves as a conclusion and a summary of the speaker's argument.

The language used in this sonnet is rich and evocative, with powerful imagery that brings the themes to life. The personification of Time as a "grim wolf" is particularly effective, as it creates a vivid and menacing image in the reader's mind. The use of the word "devour" emphasizes the destructive power of Time and the inevitability of its effects.

The speaker's declaration that his writing will outlive him is also a powerful statement, and the use of the word "monument" reinforces the idea that his words will stand as a lasting tribute to his life and work. The final couplet, with its use of the word "live" and its repetition of the phrase "till I return," emphasizes the eternal nature of the written word and the speaker's belief that his work will continue to inspire and influence future generations.

Overall, John Milton's Sonnet 19 is a beautiful and powerful work that explores the themes of time, mortality, and the power of the written word. Its structure, language, and imagery all work together to create a powerful and evocative piece of poetry that has stood the test of time. As readers, we are reminded of the importance of leaving a lasting legacy, and the power of words to transcend the limitations of time and mortality.

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