Written more than a decade before the publication of Paradise Lost, Sonnet 19 finds the poet/speaker disconsolate at its opening, unsure how he will use his talents when he is blind, unsure how he can serve his God (and in a further implication, his country) in his affliction and at his advancing age.
The turn of the sonnet appears when “patience” counsels that God does not *need* any person’s labor, since God is omnipotent and, besides, his servants work by the thousands for his glory. To serve the lord, the speaker reflects, he must merely bear his own burden with grace: “They also serve who only stand and waite.”
And Milton waited, and in his waiting, created Paradise Lost.
Here it is, in all its exquisite glory:
When I consider how my light is spent,
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present [ 5 ]
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day labour, light deny’d,
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 [ 10 ]
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.