holy Light, offspring of Heav’n first-born,
Or of th’ Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam’d? since God is Light,
And never but in unapproached Light
Dwelt from Eternity, dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
. . .
thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy Sovran vital Lamp; but thou
Revisit’st not these eyes, that roll in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quencht thir Orbs,
Or dim suffusion veil’d. Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Clear Spring, or shady Grove, or Sunny Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred Song . . .
. . .
So much the rather thou Celestial Light
Shine inward, and the mind through all powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.
(III.1–6; 21–29; 51–55)
These passages from Book III make up
part of Milton’s second and longest invocation, which is also his
most autobiographical and symbolic. Milton refers to light simultaneously
as divine wisdom and literal light. When he speaks about his blindness
he refers to both his inward blindness, or lack of divine wisdom,
and his literal blindness, or loss of eyesight.
He begins by praising holy light as the essence of God.
The idea that God is light was common before and during Milton’s
time, and is a popular interpretation of certain biblical passages
in Genesis. He then invokes his heavenly muse, the Holy Spirit,
by reusing similar images and ideas from his first invocation; remember
that Milton has asked for this heaven muse to illuminate “what in
me is dark” (I.22). Symbolically, Milton
asks for his muse to enter his body and fill him with divine knowledge.
Milton discusses his physical, outward blindness when
he compares himself to other famous blind “Prophets old” (III.36),
such as Homer (Maeonides) and Tiresias, and asks that he be filled
with even more wisdom than them. He does not seek pity for his blindness,
explaining that he is still active and undeterred from his poetic purpose.
He believes that his outward blindness is insignificant, and that
he hopes he is not inwardly blind. He hopes to sing beautifully like
the darkling bird, which sings at night, unable to see who or what
she is singing to. He ends his invocation by asking for his inward
blindness to be corrected so that he can properly tell the story
of Adam and Eve.