Editor's note:

From the Introduction in Spiritual Classics:

The two short poems that follow show the depth of Milton’s spiritual life. Each one describes a crisis of faith in which he feels trapped by circumstances but gains the grace to trust God’s will.

In the first, written soon after he left Cambridge University, Milton complains that he has turned twenty-three without having accomplished anything. His life feels empty and inconclusive. Midway through the poem, he grasps the importance of submission: God’s will, not his own, will ensure the right outcome.

In the second poem, written late in life, Milton’s obstacle is the blindness, which, he fears, has left his great talent “useless.” Again, as in his youth, Milton submits to God’s will for him, aligning himself with the submission of the angels to the will of God: “they also serve who only stand and wait.”

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

On His Having Arrived at the Age of Twenty-three

HOW soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth,
     Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year!
     My hasting days fly on with full career,
     But my late spring no bud or blossom showeth.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
     That I to manhood am arrived so near,
     And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
     That some more timely happy spirits endueth.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
     It shall be still in strictest measure even,
     To that same lot however mean or high,
Toward which time leads me and the will of heaven;
     All is, if I have grace to use it so,
     As ever in my great task-master’s eye.

On His Blindness

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.” 

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Excerpted from Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines, edited by Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin (New York: HarperOne, 2000).