Sonnet XXIII: Methought I Saw my Late Espoused Saint

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
3     Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
4     Rescu'd from death by force, though pale and faint.
6     Purification in the old Law did save,
7     And such as yet once more I trust to have
8     Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,
9Came vested all in white, pure as her mind;
10     Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight
11     Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin'd
12So clear as in no face with more delight.
13     But Oh! as to embrace me she inclin'd,


1] Late espoused saint: Katharine Woodcock, Milton's second wife, whom he married in 1656, when already blind. She gave birth to a daughter in October, 1657 (who also died), and she died in February, 1658. Saint bears witness to her piety and gentleness. Back to Line
2] Alcestis: In the Alcestis of Euripides, the heroine dies but is rescued from the lower world and restored to Admetus ("her glad husband") by Hercules, the son of Zeus ("Jove's great son"). Back to Line
5] The ritual of purification after a birth is set forth in Leviticus 12: 7-12. The blind Milton had never seen Katharine. She presents herself in his dream with every attribute of love and goodness, but veiled (like Alcestis), and clad in white (cf. "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''--Revelation 7: 13-14: the true purification), white symbolizing also her purity of mind. As she here appears, Milton hopes to have full sight of her in heaven. Back to Line
14] day brought back my night: the night of his blindness as well as of his loss. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Hugh MacCallum; A. S. P. Woodhouse
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.238.