Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint
John Milton (1608-1674)
Methought I saw my late espoused Saint
Brought to me like Alcestus from the grave,
Who Jove's great Son to her glad Husband gave,
Rescu'd from death by force though pale and faint.
Mine as whom washt from spot of child-bed taint
Purification in the old Law did save,
And such as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in Heav'n without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind:
Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight
Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shin'd
So clear, as in no face with more delight.
But O as to embrace me she enclin'd
I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night.
John Milton, a widower, had gone blind in 1654. In 1656, he married a second time, to Katherine Woodcock, who died in 1658, probably from complications related to giving birth four months before her death. So Milton never saw Katherine's face, though he loved her. In 1673, he wrote this sonnet. In searching for it, I thought it was "I dreamed I saw my late espoused saint," but it is "Methought I saw." But the last line does indicate it was in a dream that he saw her. In the dream he recognizes her and sees all her good qualities shining from her, but he still cannot see her face; that is not how he'd know her. He sees her as purified and in the white robe of those who worship God in heaven (Rev. 7:9-17) . He also states his belief that he trusts to see her that way some day in heaven. Meanwhile, they are separated. He longs to embrace her, but wakes up and she's gone. Day brings back his night--his night of loss and mourning, and also the darkness of his physical blindness. It's a beautiful poem, though poignantly sad (yet not despairing--we do not grieve as those who have no hope).
I looked for it today because today is my late brother's birthday. He would have been 54.
Dan Kok, 1954-2006