How Soon Hath Time

by John Milton

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Who is the "Task-Master" in Milton's "How Soon Hath Time"?

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In Milton's "How Soon Hath Time," the great "Task-Master" is God, observing the speaker's behavior and progress. In the first part of the poem, the speaker laments that his youth is passing and that he has not yet accomplished much, but in the last part of the poem, he realizes that to fulfill his destiny he must follow the will of heaven.

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To understand who the "Task-Master" mentioned in the last line of "How Soon Hath Time" by John Milton is, it is necessary to understand the progression of thought in the poem. The first eight lines are a lamentation. The speaker is disturbed that he has passed his "three-and-twentieth year": he feels his youth is almost spent, and he has little to show for it. When he mentions that "no bud or blossom" shows, he is stating that he has completed no accomplishments and achieved no goals that are worthy of recognition. When he writes that "inward ripeness doth much less appear," he is pointing out that although he is aging physically, he does not feel he has matured inwardly in his thoughts or emotions.

In the final six lines, though, the lament ceases, and the speaker takes a more spiritual view of his situation. He writes that regardless of the details of his destiny, whether he achieves abundance or penury and achieves a high or low position, everything will happen in due time according to "the will of Heav'n." He longs for the grace to surrender to this heavenly will and find favor in his "great Task-Master's eye." In the context of what the speaker has already mentioned, we understand that the great Task-Master whom the speaker desires to serve well is God. The reference that he is "ever in" the Task-Master's eye means that he believes that God constantly observes him, and so he wants to do what is right.

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