How Soon Hath Time

by John Milton
Start Free Trial

What does the phrase "late spring" mean in "How Soon Hath Time"?

The phrase "late spring" in "How Soon Hath Time" means late youth. The speaker has reached his twenty-third year and doesn't believe he has anything to show for it. He hasn't accomplished anything in life.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "How Soon Hath Time," Milton uses the time-honored poetic metaphor of youth as spring to drive home the point he wishes to make. The speaker has reached his "late spring," his late youth, but doesn't have anything to show for it. In metaphorical terms, his late spring...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In "How Soon Hath Time," Milton uses the time-honored poetic metaphor of youth as spring to drive home the point he wishes to make. The speaker has reached his "late spring," his late youth, but doesn't have anything to show for it. In metaphorical terms, his late spring "no bud or blossom shew'th." In other words, he doesn't believe he's accomplished anything in life.

It may seem strange to describe a twenty-three-year-old as being in late youth. But one needs to remember that life expectancy in Milton's day was much lower than in it in ours. So one can understand why the speaker of the poem feels the passing of time most keenly. All told, he doesn't have a great deal of time left on this earth and is therefore keen to make something of his life.

While it's seldom a good idea to identify the speaker of a poem with its author, in this particular case, there are undoubtedly autobiographical elements to observe. Milton set himself the bold and ambitious target to become one of the greatest poets of all time, up there with the greats of antiquity such as Homer and Virgil.

For this, he needed a lot of time. But as the speaker makes clear in "How Soon Hath Time," there's not much of that left when one enters the late spring of life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team