How Soon Hath Time

by John Milton

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How Soon Hath Time Summary

What is John Milton saying in his poem, "How soon hath time?"


John Milton's "How Soon Hath Time" begins with the speaker complaining about how little he has accomplished in life but then turns toward the religious and the universal. The speaker concludes by mentioning that he should place more faith in God and God's idea for his life.

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John Milton's Sonnet 7 begins "How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth" and is often referred to by its incipit. The poem is written in the form of a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet, consisting of an octave and a sestet. The octave is rhymed abbaabba and the sestet abcbac. The meter of the poem is iambic pentameter.

The poem is written in the first person and is highly autobiographical. The poet in the octave states that he is 23 years old and is frustrated with having accomplished little he considers of consequence and with not having the sort of success in life he desires. There are no specific details, but rather a general sense of dissatisfaction with his present life.

As is typical of the genre, there is a turn before the sestet, or a shift of focus. In the sestet, Milton shifts perspective from the secular and individual to the more universal and religious. He argues that he should place his trust in God and in God's plans for him rather than being impatient and short-sighted, and finds some measure of contentment in the knowledge that time will reveal God's plans for him.

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John Milton's speaker is reflecting upon his life and accomplishments through his current age, 23 years old.  He is dissatisfied with what little he thinks he has produced and bemoans how quickly time is passing.  If the speaker is the poet, then perhaps he is suggesting that he has produced too few good poems when he says that "no bud or blossom showeth."  The fact that he references "his spring" connects to the year of life metaphor where spring is birth and youth, but age 23 is certainly the late end of youth and the clear start of young-adulthood.  He extends his comments to explain that while the exterior of the person seems old, he has not matured yet.

The end of the poem talks about how God, his "great Task-Master" is keeping an eye on the speaker and what he is doing with his life and the gifts that God has given him.  The speaker hopes that what he accomplishes will be ultimately pleasing to God.

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