- Who first wrote or said this?
- Under what circumstances did Milton write the line?
- What is the lesson to be learned from his advice?
We all have a place in this world and we all perform a function, regardless of our ability or disability. The word order of the sentence may make it more difficult to understand. In normal English it would be something like. “They (those people) who only stand and wait, also serve”.
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied”?
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
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait
The philosophy of this saying, which is a line of poetry, will be better understood if we know who wrote it, and what he was thinking of at the time. The writer was John Milton, a great religious poet of England, who was writing three hundred years ago. Milton was always anxious to, serve God by every means in his power. He looked on God as a great Ruler giving important missions to all His servants. Some were sent as messengers and ambassadors to great work in the world.
Milton wanted to serve God with great talent, and hoped to be allowed to do so. But before he was an old man, he became completely blind, having overstrained his eyes in his religious and political writings. Thus he found himself unable to serve at all, or at any rate, to do important public works. At first he was sad and full of regret, but then he consoled himself by saying, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” In other words, all cannot be great agents and ambassadors doing God’s work, and they who simply submit to His will and accept what life sends to them are serving too.
Seen in this light we can understand that there can be few lessons in life more important. Many men and women are dissatisfied with their lives. They complain of “ill luck” and wonder that others have much brighter lives, more important work to do, bigger salaries. This kind of discontent will lead nowhere. Indeed if the man or woman will examine the causes of the seeming misfortunes, they will often be found to lie in self. This sub-continent is a land with a tremendous gulf between great people and poor people. The millionaire in his millions pases three blind beggars led together by another man. Has God selected one for luxury and three for blindness? The question cannot be put as simply as that. Causes operating back through a long line of ancestors may have been at work in the case of the blind and the rich. Whatever the cause, the only noble thing to do is to accept life with courage, and face the future with courage.
“It matters not how strait the gate.
How charged with Destiny the scroll
I am the Master of my Fate,
I am the Captain of my Soul.”