Sonnet XXII: To Cyriack Skinner

Original Text: 
John Milton, Poems, 2nd edn. (London: Thomas Dring, 1673). Facs. edn. Complete Poetical Works reproduced in photographic facsimile, comp. by H. F. Fletcher (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1943-48). PR 3551 F52 ROBA
2     To outward view of blemish or of spot,
3     Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;
4     Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
5Of sun or moon or star throughout the year,
7     Against Heav'n's hand or will, not bate a jot
9Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
11     In liberty's defence, my noble task,
12Of which all Europe talks from side to side.


1] "... to external appearance they [my eyes] are as completely without injury, as clear and bright, without the semblance of a cloud, as the eyes of those whose sight is most perfect" (Milton, Second Defence). Composed not earlier than 1655. First printed in Phillips's Life of Milton. Cyriack Skinner, a grandson of the celebrated jurist Sir Edward Coke, had been one of Milton's pupils and remained his faithful friend.
this three years day: three years ago today. Back to Line
6] argue: contend. Back to Line
8] bear up: a nautical phrase, put the helm up, so as to bring the vessel into the direction of the wind (but with a memory also of the sense, "keep up one's spirits"). Back to Line
10] conscience: consciousness;
them: his eyes, i.e., their sight. 10-12.
Lines 10-12: Warned of his danger, Milton had deliberately sacrificed his much impaired vision to write his Defence of the English People, a work which spread his fame on the continent. Back to Line
13] vain mask: empty pageant. Back to Line
14] better guide: religious consolation and support (cf. Sonnet XIX). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Hugh MacCallum; A. S. P. Woodhouse
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.238.