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.
"Without a knowledge of mythology much of the elegant literature of our own language cannot be understood and appreciated."
The original text for this sonnet first appeared in John Milton's Poems in 1673. The Late Espoused Saint that Milton writes so poetically about is his second wife Katharine Woodcock. An espoused saint in Christianity is one who is dead and wedded to Christ in Heaven
By the time she met married him in 1656 he was blind. His use of the word saint is a testitomy to her piety and gentleness. She gave birth to a daughter who died in October, 1657, Katharine died four months later in February.
Milton wrote poetry based on what he believed to be dreams inspired by God and since the blind Milton had never seen Katharine she presents herself in his dream with every attribute of love and goodness. Bulfinch of Bulfinch's Mythology engendered many young American boys in his teachings to have a greater understanding of mythology through the poetry of their time. Bulfinch used Milton among a couple dozen other poets to illustrate how to apply literature in stories. By telling the story of Admetus and Alcestis and then presenting this poem Bulfinch's objective was to inspire a desire for more of the same.
In the Alcestis of Euripides, Admetus becomes gravely ill. The Fates agree that he can survive but only if someone will take his place. The only person to come forward is his wife Alcestis. Veiled and clad in white, or as Milton describes her Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight , and since these were the Fates talking ; Admetus has no choice, as he becomes well Alcestis weakens. Fortune has Hercules arrive to visit Admetus and they plan a rescue. As Death comes for Alcestis, Hercules fights him forcing him to surrender her.
Purification in the old Law is a reference to the Hebrew law in Leviticus 12 which prescribed certain sacrificial rituals for the purification of women after childbirth. Pure is also used as a reference to Katharine'name, which comes from the Greek word for pure, katharos.
In his dream Milton sees his wife vested all in white also as a Biblical reference to "What are these which are arrayed in white robes? ... These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" in Revelation 7: 13-14 She is truly purified in his dream and his hope is that he will finally see her in Heaven when he dies. He ends the poem with his waking from his dream of her with the day bringing back his blindness as well as the sad realization of the loss of his wife.
RPO -- John Milton : Sonnet XXIII: Methought I Saw my Late ... :
Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner: