Milton's twenty-third sonnet may be read without reference to Mary Powell, Katherine Woodcock, or the poet's blindness. The poem is structured on a progressive definition of salvation from death and of the human condition in this world. It contains a rising movement from physical salvation, according to the Alcestis legend, to ritualistic salvation, according to the Old Dispensation, to true Christian salvation, in which the saint is bride of the Lamb, and her virtues shine from inside her person. The marriage theme provides a tragic countermovement; for the Christian saint, though she may share Alcestis’ impulse and incline to embrace her husband, is unalterably lost to him in this world, and he can only dream of sharing her separate and purified existence after his death. Hope in the true salvation is set forth in the contrast between pale and faint Alcestis and the bright figure of the saint, and the falling movement lies in the contrast between the reunion of Alcestis and Admetus and the separation of the saint and the speaker of the poem.

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