He moved the candle closer to the paper
Whose clouded words escaped his failing sight.
Blind anger rose again. He dropped the taper,
Thought flickered low, and rage put out the light.

Despair stood near at hand to shake its head,
And bitterness reminded him that slaves
Stood as unworthy masters in the stead
Of better men now buried in their graves.

He knew what things were said behind his back:
That his few friends had caught the royal ear,
Obtaining mercy from the rope and rack
For him-a vain, blaspheming pamphleteer

Who could not see to write. Yet still his mind
Wrestled with God like Jacob at the brook,
Until behind his downcast eye there shined
As from the pages of a nameless book

The face of Heaven and the fire of Hell,
Devils’ ambitions by strange graces crossed,
Woman and Man and pride by which they fell,
Sad knowledge gained; and last, a garden lost.

Thomas Banks teaches online at the House of Humane Letters. His writings have appeared in First Things, Quadrant, the New English Review, the Imaginative Conservative, Crisis Magazine, and various other publications. He lives in North Carolina.

'Milton' have 3 comments

  1. December 12, 2021 @ 9:12 pm Cynthia Erlandson

    This is an intensely beautiful poem. I love the personification of rage, despair, and bitterness in the first two verses; the comparison of Milton to Jacob wrestling with God; and especially the descriptive imagery that — in just the last six lines — paints a picture (in contrast to the subject of blindness!) of Milton imagining and writing Paradise Lost.


  2. December 18, 2021 @ 12:07 pm Grace Gerardot

    Well done Mr. Banks!


  3. December 18, 2021 @ 2:34 pm Jonathan Kanary

    This is a really nice piece of work, but I am commenting mostly to commend this marvelous line in the final stanza: “Devils’ ambitions by strange graces crossed.” The whole poem was worth it if only for that line.


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