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Milton's On His Blindness: Eye Sight or Heart Vision

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  • Al Baha University - Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Abstract

John Milton, in his Sonnet 16 'On his Blindness,' meditates on the disturbing effect blindness has had on his whole life and literary works. He compares his lost vision with 'light spent' and grieves not the handicap in itself but the restrictions it carries out on his work as a literary figure, particularly a poet. His poetic skill is significant to him that he describes it as that one talent,' signifying it is the only talent that is of importance. This study is an attempt to analyze the concepts of blindness, sight, light, vision, and obedience with particular reference to his poem, sonnet 18 or 'On his blindness.' It starts with an introduction to John Milton as a poet. After that, it shifts to discuss the concept of Vision or Sight. Then, the study goes on to deal with the concept of obedience. Next, it sheds light on the concepts of Blindness and Light. Afterward, the task moves to close with a conclusion. In this paper, the researcher applies the critical-analytical approach.
Shikshan Sanshodhan : Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences ISSN: 2581-6241 Volume - 3, Issue - 1, Jan-Feb 2020
Bi-Monthly, Peer-Reviewed, Refereed, Indexed Journal Impact Factor: 3.589
Received on : 28/01/2019 Accepted on : 16/02/2020 Publication Date: 28/02/2020
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Milton’s On His Blindness: Eye Sight or Heart Vision
Dr. Yahya Saleh Hasan Dahami
Associate Professor, English Department,
Faculty of Science and Arts Al Mandaq
Al Baha University KSA
Email: dahami02@gmail.com
1. INTRODUCTION:
The most constant and projecting literary achievement of the Seventeenth Century was in poetry. John Milton
is undoubtedly the most extraordinary, remarkable, and astonishing poet of the century following Shakespeare He
worked as an official secretary. Milton got his master's gradation from Cambridge University in 1632. The family's
monetary wealth got him to hit the books of classical and traditional languages. "He then retired to the family residences
in London. He started writing poems when he was young such as On Shakespeare. Milton wrote several literary works
during his life” (Dahami, 2017b, p. 45). A number of his notable works are Paradise Lost (1667), Samson Agonistes
(1671), Paradise Regained (1671), sonnets, pamphlets, and several other literary works such as poems and prose.
Milton was born in 1608 in London, a son of a wealthy scrivener and composer. It is known that Milton is a
pioneer in sonnets composing; he writes political sonnets, occasional sonnets, elegiac sonnets, and sonnets of personal
meditation, like this one. He received an outstanding education in different languages such as Latin, French, Italian, and
Greek owing to the financial standing of his family. Literature was a particular preferred with Milton, where he started
writing his personal poetry when he was young and started to make a name for himself as a public speaker and orator.
In 1632, Milton went back to Hammersmith for almost three years and then to Horton, in which he devoted his time to
concentrated study and writing.
The poet Milton is recognized as one of the actual highest and most influential poets of England as an eminent
as Chaucer, Lyly, Shakespeare, and many others. As a great literary figure, he could write together poetry and prose.
Then in poetry, he had the ability to write different categories of poetry such as pastoral, epic, elegy, poetic play, sonnet,
and several others. His supreme famous and significant piece of poetry is the startling epic Paradise Lost that has been
at the focus of considerable literary criticism from the time Milton until nowadays. His sonnets did not receive significant
critical consideration as other poems.
John Milton became at the age of 36 in 1644. He initially perceived difficulties with his sight during that year,
problems that frequently barred him from reading. Conceivably, at that time, Milton wrote Sonnet 16 that was given a
new title On His Blindness later after his death as an anticipation of his subsequent blindness. Many critics may believe
that the misery apparent in the poem might have been so intensely sensed soon after the complete onset of his loss of
sight.
Milton fights in the sonnet On His Blindness with frustration at becoming blind and with his own sense of how
significant it is to enjoy one’s aptitudes well. On His Blindness was likely composed during an epoch in the early 1650s
in which his sightlessness became thorough in 1652. “In 1652, he became utterly blind” (Dahami, 2020a). The poem
records how he comes to appreciate a higher idea of service. Furthermore, the emotive baseline of On His Blindness
“its grounding in the poet's experience of marital love, desire, and loss - does not preclude its evoking another kind of
desire: a longing to fulfill the spiritual vocation that would lead Milton to find divine inspiration in physical blindness”
(DiPasquale, 2001). Besides, to a great extent, in this sonnet, “Milton places the emphasis, not on his suffering or
disability, but rather on his fear of being punished” by God (Joshua, 2018).
Abstract: John Milton, in his Sonnet 16 'On his Blindness,' meditates on the disturbing effect blindness has had on
his whole life and literary works. He compares his lost vision with 'light spent' and grieves not the handicap in
itself but the restrictions it carries out on his work as a literary figure, particularly a poet. His poetic skill is
significant to him that he describes it as that one talent,' signifying it is the only talent that is of importance.
This study is an attempt to analyze the concepts of blindness, sight, light, vision, and obedience with
particular reference to his poem, sonnet 18 or 'On his blindness.' It starts with an introduction to John Milton as
a poet. After that, it shifts to discuss the concept of Vision or Sight. Then, the study goes on to deal with the concept
of obedience. Next, it sheds light on the concepts of Blindness and Light. Afterward, the task moves to close with
a conclusion. In this paper, the researcher applies the critical-analytical approach.
Key Words: blindness, light, Milton, obedience, poetry, seventeenth-century, sight, vision.
Shikshan Sanshodhan : Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences ISSN: 2581-6241 Volume - 3, Issue - 1, Jan-Feb 2020
Bi-Monthly, Peer-Reviewed, Refereed, Indexed Journal Impact Factor: 3.589
Received on : 28/01/2019 Accepted on : 16/02/2020 Publication Date: 28/02/2020
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2. VISION OR SIGHT:
Milton in On His Blindness considers how his eyesight is used up in the world; for Milton, the profoundly
devout poet eyesight may mean an inner light or even spiritual aptitude. The poet guesses that his life is not yet finished,
but half of it remains nonetheless. The phrase "in this dark world and wide"
1
is a distinctive way of the different ways
that the poet handles adjectives; he is skilled in putting an adjective in front of the noun and another after it. The line,
according to Milton, tells us that the narrator speaks of a lousy help who ignores his master's aptitude instead of using
it positively; he is 'cast into outer darkness.' There is a reference to a literal talent of Milton himself as a talented poet.
In the poem, On His Blindness, Milton contemplates on the devastating consequence sightlessness has had on his work
and life. He compares his vanished eyesight with 'light spent,' and laments not the handicap in and of itself, but the
inadequacy it obliges on his production as a poet. Milton's poetic talent is so significant to him that he entitles it "that
one talent" (p. 86) proposing and signifying it is the only aptitude that matters. Its communication has been solidified
dreadful as a result of his blindness. Milton's inadequacy is principally distressing since he desires more than ever to
write verse but appears to see no way to carry on. Blindness forced double incompetence on the poetic activity of Milton.
In a broad sense, sightlessness made verse a problematic activity because it is challenging for a blind poet to put words
to paper. Furthermore, Milton's idea of epic poetry assumed a high level of enlightenment. The damage of his eyesight
meant he is no longer able to read, and as a result, he will not be able to learn either.
Eliot's vision bleached slowly over approximately a decade. Misfortune appeared to start in 1644, once he
observed difficulties in reading. Milton, when defined his early indications as 'a sort of rainbow,' which obscured
whatever he was searching. That was tracked by fog in the left eye that progressively blotted out all things on that side.
When On His Blindness was inscribed, Milton obviously apologized for the lost time he had wasted not creating poetry
as his ambition.
Milton's loss of sight was an anticipated disaster. The problem started in his family, in which his mother had
terrible eyesight.
The terms 'vision', 'sight,' and 'seeing' … mean the physical act of perceiving an image with the eyes. Other
occasions call for the employment of the term "vision" as a sign of spiritual manifestation and further as a mental
image, what Milton would have necessarily employed most often as a blind poet (Silverman Jr, 2011, p. 6).
Milton’s life transformed totally as his care shifted from personal interests to public concerns because of the
approaching of the Commonwealth movement and the English Civil War. He was the spokesperson of his political
party, which was the ruling party, in the late 1640s and early 1650s” (Flannagan, 2002, p. 12). During the early 1640s,
he hastily left off composing of poetry for prose writing, shifting to write pamphlets where he contrasted what he
considered widespread episcopal oppression. Milton “destroyed his sight writing pamphlets in support of the execution
of the king by Parliament. Milton said that he lost his sight voluntarily, defending freedom; he spoke of that noble task
and never complained of being blind” (Borges, 1999, p. 102). He declared his Puritan fidelity and loyalty in tracts that
he claimed the need to restore the easiness of the religion and to wash out the English Church of all remnants of Roman
Catholicism. Later with two years, he married Mary Powell, the first wife, who did not stay with him for a long time
and left him to her family. Milton “got married to Mary, the daughter of Mr. Powel, a justice of the peace in Oxfordshire
in his thirty-five years in 1642" (Dahami, 2020a). Milton then married again, and after three years, his first wife returned
to him. Marriage was deemed a consecrated institution by the churches of England. Divorce was very seldom approved
in Milton's time, only on the argument of disloyalty or impotence.
It is probable that Milton was present at the open execution of Charles I. When Charles I was put to death in
1649, Milton moved in the political argument by producing The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, which was a
declaration of the right of a people to remove a tyrant of the chair. Milton is known as a political left who accepted to
become a secretary of Cromwell for foreign affairs, where he issued many tracts on different issues about church and
state. He suspended a journey to the continent in 1639 once he has got to know of the religious arguments in England.
Then returned home; Milton became an active protester in the movement that ultimately brought down Charles I. Milton
was a severe believer in personal freedoms. He engraved numerous pamphlets, booklets, and different other literary
works in support of the Puritan rebels and for Commonwealth headed by Cromwell. Milton, in his work Of Reformation,
for instance, did not hesitate to criticize the Church, or the King himself, which is understood in his work Eikonoklastes
to articulate values wherein he believed. His last fourteen years were spent in a comparatively peaceful retreat in London
and its suburbs. Milton reached a complete loss of the sight approximately around 1652 since then he gradually devoted
the majority of his time for writing poetry. He spent a good deal of mornings dictating passages which he had memorized
at night; this sort of behavior took place during the time of writing of Paradise Lost which was published in 1667 then
followed by Paradise Regained after four years with approximately the production of Samson Agonistes, a poetic play,
enclosed in the volume of Paradise Regained. John Milton died in 1674 of gout.
1
Milton, J. (2009). The Complete Poems of John Milton, New York: Cosimo, Inc. p. 86. [ all lines of the sonnet ‘On His Blindness’
are cited from this source unless stated otherwise; the number of the page is followed.]
Shikshan Sanshodhan : Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences ISSN: 2581-6241 Volume - 3, Issue - 1, Jan-Feb 2020
Bi-Monthly, Peer-Reviewed, Refereed, Indexed Journal Impact Factor: 3.589
Received on : 28/01/2019 Accepted on : 16/02/2020 Publication Date: 28/02/2020
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3. OBEDIENCE :
“Lodged with me useless” (p. 86) refers to the uselessness of his talent now because he is losing his vision.
Though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker (p. 86)
might be approximately interpreted as even though his soul is even more motivated to work for God with such talent.
The poet wishes eventually to 'present his true account,' or show a proper interpretation of himself and the service to
God. The fifth line expresses the speaker's longing to serve God by means of poetry and to use such aptitudes for the
magnificence of God. "When I consider how my light is spent" (p. 86). "This line captures the central argument of the
sonnetthat blindness does not prevent one from serving God because God demands obedience rather than great deeds"
(Cohen, 2017).
The line might also refer to the coming of Jesus. “Lest he returning chide” (p. 86) is interpreted as he will not
reproach or rebuke any when he comes back. Milton resentfully enquires if God desires day-work, or smaller, lesser
tasks, since Milton's sightlessness repudiates his sight and, therefore, the use of his aptitudes. Patience has often been
understood as a personification instead of as another feature of Milton's internal self. Either way, in the internal
discussion, patience speaks in the last six lines, fairly and meritoriously having the final expression. Patience declares,
to inhibit that 'murmur,' Milton's enquiring of God's determination in the seventh line.
Patience's answer explains a feature of the nature of God and asserts a sort of service to God, which is not easy
from the service backed in the legend of the aptitudes. Initially, God does not want man's service or God-given aptitudes.
The nature of service to God is clarified succeeding. "Who best/bear his mild yoke" (p. 86) tells that the individuals who
can be estimated as most submissive and docile to God's determination that is mild, not severe. These individuals are
the ones who work and obey God best. The portrait of the yoke is also religious; a yoke was a sort of harness dressed in
an ox that shows an image for God's determination. Another portrait shows that 'His state is kingly,' which explains
God's magnitude where patience goes on to expand in the ensuing lines of the same importance.
It is a well- known fact that Milton had become blind because of his excessive devotion to studies and the labour
he had put in while writing his prose pamphlets on controversial matters. The important light which Milton's blindness
throws on his character is his firm faith in God (Chandra, 1993, p. 70).
By God's command, order or will, thousands of persons and by implication, innocent messengers such as those
of angels 'speed and post' throughout the world continually. The line suggests a sort of perpetual, worldwide
gesticulation of the service to God's orders that permits the final line to indicate a great restfulness through contrast and
peace. Serving God, there are many ways. Patience articulates to the poet that even his staying with patience or the
ostensible inaction resulted from his blindness is estimated as a sort of service if it goes in accordance with the criterion
as suggested in lines 10-11, in order to bear the yoke or burden well. The last line is very significant and famous in
which it is often quoted.
In a picture of a calamity like blindness, the single option of action open to a person and similarly all humankind,
as suggested by the last six lines, is unassuming submission to the will of the Almighty. "Who best/bear his mild yoke,
they serve him best" (p. 86) attentively listens to the passage in the gospel. Jesus speaks to his followers that a blind
person did not become blind for the reason that he has committed turpitudes; however, the work of God must be made
evident in him. Patience recommends and guides against putting an issue put to God. Man's obligation to God is not to
offer Him whatever thing. God does not need anything from humans; anything people have is 'his own gifts.' Milton
agrees to take his share in life as a portion of a larger plan.
4. BLINDNESS AND LIGHT :
Quiet others guess that On His Blindness may possibly have been transcribed long before Milton’s complete
blindness. He did not look handicapped by his loss of sight, even proximately after it developed total. Milton converted
progressively sightless after several years and would have had a chance to regulate and correct it. During the seventeenth
century, a regular duration was measured as seventy years, comparatively a number cited in the Psalms.
The appearance of ‘light’ is significant to On His Blindness. "Light here has various denotations; it means
sanguinity, hope, success, prospect, promise and aspiration" (Dahami, 2018). On the most artificial level, it denotes to
natural light, that Milton is no longer able to experience. It brings to the mind a tale to which Milton mentioned in other
manuscripts. The appearance of light echoes on many diverse levels of the religious stories. Here, he is soothed for the
loss of corporal 'Day' and its delights by the illumination of the heavenly Light that responds to Milton's plea to shine
from inward. "Light is the energy, the active force of the transparent" (Silverman Jr, 2011, p. 16). Daylight is an allegory
for the life of all individuals, life is limited, and when the night comes, the day is gone incessantly. Milton believes that
darkness is the blindness that brought about an end to his creative life. He suggested when he wrote, "talent which is
Shikshan Sanshodhan : Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences ISSN: 2581-6241 Volume - 3, Issue - 1, Jan-Feb 2020
Bi-Monthly, Peer-Reviewed, Refereed, Indexed Journal Impact Factor: 3.589
Received on : 28/01/2019 Accepted on : 16/02/2020 Publication Date: 28/02/2020
Available online on shikshansanshodhan.researchculturesociety.org Page 106
death to hide" (p. 86) that his blindness is going to prevent him from accomplishing longer life. In his perspective, the
immortality which brings with it fame brings a poet who has composed a chef-d'oeuvre
2
.
Light indicates the internal light, the spiritual light that gleams in the poet.
Milton may be literally recording the loss of his eyesight at the time of the sonnet's composition. What becomes
especially noticeable in the sonnet is the absence of imagery implying light. Light is defined as the agent by which
vision becomes possible. However, light can also denote something spiritual emanating from the Heavens. The light
in heaven which God creates is certainly different from candle light. Light can mean the illumination of the soul with
divine truth or it can mean purity and holiness. Thus, light can be physical, spiritual, or both (Scher, 1992).
When Milton refers to his corporeal blindness, he eventually considers it a representation of spiritual blindness.
“His blindness becomes both a painful human loss … and a symbol of prophetic vision” (DiPasquale, 2001). Moreover,
“Because Milton was clearly a monist when he wrote Paradise Lost, he could apply physical restoratives to the eye to
prepare it for spiritual visions” (Silverman Jr, 2011, p. 14). The idea is supported by Bloom (2004), “It is what happens
visually in Paradise Lost, where the poet’s blindness to the external world yields a higher, inner vision” (p. 132). Milton
defines blindness spiritually, when the blind person, deprived of outer light, looks toward the inner light so sought after
by various preachers or autobiography writers identified as Puritans. (Flannagan, 2002, p. 75). During composing
Paradise Lost in 1652, "John Milton went blind. 'Why should I not submit with complacency to this loss of sight,' he
later wrote, 'which seems only withdrawn from the body without to increase the sight of the mind within" (Grann, 1997)?
Additionally, "while considerable sight still remained, abundant light would dart from my closed eyes; then as sight
daily diminished, colours proportionately darker would burst forth with violence and a sort of crash from within"
(Meyers, 2009). The poet thought that poets were similarly providers of light; they were and will be illuminators; their
productions brought a distinct kind of illumination to humanity. However, Milton's blindness has put out his poetic light.
Milton presents two connotations of talent or aptitude as a God-given talent and skill in the normal sense and a form of
money in the religious story. Owing to his blindness, Milton fears that he will not be able to use his aptitude for the
service of God.
According to our poet Milton, the real service is responsibility goes in accordance with the will of God, even if
it indicates that the person must 'stand and wait.' The idea is similar to Eliot's, who in his dramatic and poetic piece The
Rock, states that “there is the consciousness that such a condition can be cured through involving people in the real
choice to serve the will of God rather than their own" (Dahami, 2017a). Furthermore, God "gives human beings the
authority of creation, and as a result, a man should employ his creation to serve God" (Dahami, 2020b). The expressions
with double connotations are 'spent' in the first line, 'talent' in the third line, 'useless' in the fourth line, 'account' in the
sixth line, and 'exact' in the seventh line. The subordinate meaning goes parallel in a coherent line of portraits; all are
portraits of the monetary altercation. Milton is a poet who is considerably thoughtful to the various senses presented in
language and to constellations of imagery of such type.
In On His Blindness, Milton takes benefit of the Petrarchan sonnet form, wherein an octave, or first eight lines,
presents a difficulty, and the sestet, or last six lines, proposes the answer. Line nine is the apportioning point between
challenge and response; this line is usually called volta or the 'turn.' In this poem or sonnet, Milton uses volta cleverly
to highlight and accentuate his personal impatience. It is his own patience he exemplifies as talking out to ‘prevent’ his
particular impatience. The sonnet uses encircled rhyme, which sometimes is composed as abba abba. It is conceived
that the sestet’s rhyme structure is cde cde, one of several recognized rhyme structures of a Petrarchan sestet. Milton, as
a literary figure, is known for his metrical talent, and this sonnet's systematic iambic pentameter is naturally
knowledgeable. However, it does not comprise the astonishing rhythmic and melodious effects for which he is very
famous. It is stimulating instead for its several enjambments, the knocking down of one line into another that could be
said to require the lines hurry along. The impatient enjambment makes the final line conspicuous by contrast; in some
sense, an enjambment helps the final line achieve what does the theme implies in order to wait standing still.
5. CONCLUSION:
On His Blindness or what it is named Sonnet 16 principally, has received a reasonable deal of critical argument
and appreciation, much of it arguing the period of the structure. The poem has evident that all explanations identify that
this sonnet begins from a mood of despair, frustration, and even impatience. Through this short sonnet, Milton has
amazingly shown different notions and conceptions that deal with an artificial vision on the one hand and another
profound vision, on the other side. This study might not be full, and it needs the contribution of critics to critically
elaborate it to be sufficient, adequate, and satisfactory.
REFERENCES:
1. Bloom, H. (2004). Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: John Milton, Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers.
2
stunning success
Shikshan Sanshodhan : Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences ISSN: 2581-6241 Volume - 3, Issue - 1, Jan-Feb 2020
Bi-Monthly, Peer-Reviewed, Refereed, Indexed Journal Impact Factor: 3.589
Received on : 28/01/2019 Accepted on : 16/02/2020 Publication Date: 28/02/2020
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2. Borges, G. L. (1999). Everything and Nothing, USA: New Directions Publishing,
3. Chandra, R. L. (1993). John Milton: the Man and his Concept of Liberty (Ph. D. Thesis), Department of English,
V. B. S. Purvanchal University, India.
4. Cohen, J. L. (2017). Shining Inward. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 11(1), 5368.
https://doi.org/10.3828/jlcds.2017.4
5. Dahami, Y. S. H. (2020a). Milton’s Samson Agonistes: A Renaissance Image of Man, International Journal of
Scientific Engineering and Science, Vol. 4(1); pp. 25-31.
6. Dahami, Y. S. H. (2020b). Eliot’s Treatment of the Chorus: A Steady Logical Structure (1) The Rock and Murder
in the Cathedral Case in Point, American Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Research (AJHSSR), Vol.
4(1); pp. 110-116.
7. Dahami, Y. S. H. (2018). Sanguinity in Fry’s The Dark is Light Enough Umm Al-Qura University Journal of
Languages and Literature, Vol. 21; pp. 10-43.
8. Dahami, Y. S. H. (2017a). Revival of Poetic Drama: T. S. Eliot’s Contribution to the Genre, Germany: Noor
Publishing.
9. Dahami, Y. S. H. (2017b). Introduction to English Literature, Germany: Noor Publishing.
10. DiPasquale, T. M. (2001). Milton’s Purgatorio. Philological Quarterly, 80(2); pp. 169186. Retrieved from
http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hft&AN=510053981&site=ehost-live
11. Flannagan, R. (2002). John Milton: A Short Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
12. Grann, D. (1997). Washington Diarist. The New Republic, 216(12), 46. Retrieved from
http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=asn&AN=9703116516&site=ehost-live
13. Joshua, M. Hall (2018) A darkly bright republic: Milton's poetic logic, South African Journal of Philosophy,
37:2, 158-170, DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2018.1440337
14. Meyers, J. (2009). Strength of Mind. Gettysburg Review, 22(2), 235242. Retrieved from
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15. Milton, J. (2009). The Complete Poems of John Milton, New York: Cosimo, Inc.
16. Scher, A. (1992). John Milton's Rainbow: Sonnet XIX, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, retrieved from
https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED352662.pdf
17. Silverman Jr, W. J. (2011). Seeing While Blind: Disability, Theories of Vision, and Milton's Poetry (Ph. D.
Thesis), COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, Florida State University Libraries.
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  • R L Chandra
Chandra, R. L. (1993). John Milton: the Man and his Concept of Liberty (Ph. D. Thesis), Department of English, V. B. S. Purvanchal University, India.
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  • Y S H Dahami
Dahami, Y. S. H. (2018). Sanguinity in Fry's The Dark is Light Enough Umm Al-Qura University Journal of Languages and Literature, Vol. 21; pp. 10-43.