Wednesday, April 22, 2009

John Milton, Sonnet 14

When Faith and Love which parted from thee never,
Had ripen’d thy just soul to dwell with God,
Meekly thou didst resign this earthy load
Of Death, call’d Life; which us from Life doth sever.
Thy Works and Alms and all thy good Endeavor
Stay’d not behind, nor in the grave were trod;
But, as Faith pointed with her golden rod,
Follow’d thee up to joy and bliss for ever.
Love led them on, and Faith who knew them best
Thy handmaid, clad them o’er with purple beams
And azure wings, that up they flew so drest,
And spake the truth of thee in glorious Themes
Before the Judge, who thenceforth bid thee rest
And drink thy fill of pure immortal streams.


John Milton’s Sonnet 14 was designed as a consolation to those left behind after the death of a pious woman. His emphasis on Faith, Love, Works, and Alms is essentially a conventional Protestant position.

And so much of the sonnet is conventional that it may be applied to any death, even that of my own daughter, Sharon, who died on March 16, aged 50. She too never lost faith and never lost her sense of love. Our conversations in Hospice, where she lingered for a month, confronted the fact of death and its impact on those she was leaving behind. Her constant focus was on the love she felt for us, her family, and for those who cared for her, nurses and doctors.

Her works are visible in the devotion of her students, who came from great distances to spend time with her in Hospice. They told her how much she had changed their lives, how much they had relied on her, how much beauty she had introduced them to. Her photographs, intense Mandalas built from floral fragments, are on display at the Fort Worth Community Art Center and stand as testament to her talent, cut short while she was in her prime.

Alms are gifts of the spirit, which she gave freely to students who responded with love in their turn. She was a pure soul in many ways, a gift to those who knew her–as they attested variously in her memorial. What we learned was how large a soul she was. And what we hope is that faith will somehow make her immortal.

2 comments:

cyn said...

This sonnet was written to comfort George Thomasson , my 7x (I think) great grandfather & his children after the death of his wife, Catherine. My great grandmother, Dora Ellafaire (Thomasson) Hutchesson, was the mother of my grandmother, Mary Katherine (Hutcheson) Grissett.

I am sorry for your loss. I recently lost a beloved relative, and this sonnet has a special meaning for me, as well. I'm so glad we can find such comfort from a sonnet written so long ago...

Jimmy Thomason said...

Written in honor of Catherine Hutton Thomason, wife of George Thomason jr. who were great friends with Milton.