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Short poem

John Milton (1608-1674)

Sonnet VII: How soon hath Time, the Subtle Thief of Youth

              1How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
              2     Stol'n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
              3     My hasting days fly on with full career,
              4     But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
              5Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth
              6     That I to manhood am arriv'd so near;
              7     And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
              8     That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.
              9Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
            10     It shall be still in strictest measure ev'n
            11     To that same lot, however mean or high,
            12Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav'n:
            13     All is, if I have grace to use it so
            14     As ever in my great Task-Master's eye.


1] From the meaning habitually assigned by Milton to the cognate Latin phrase anno aetatis, it seems clear that what he calls his "three and twentieth year" would in ordinary modern usage be designated as his four and twentieth, and that, hence, the sonnet was written on or about his twenty-fourth birthday, December 9, 1632. It appears in the Cambridge MS. in the draft of a letter to a friend, who has evidently assumed Milton's intention still to enter the ministry and has rebuked him for tardiness in so doing. It was first published in Poems, 1645.

2] three and twentieth year. See above.

8] endu'th: endows.

13-14] All is--all that matters is--that I have grace to use it (the lot) as one who is ever in God's presence.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: John Milton, Poems, 2nd edn. (London: Thomas Dring, 1673). Facs. edn. Complete Poetical Works reproduced in photographic facsimile. Comp. by H. F. Fletcher. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1943-48. PR 3551 F52 Robarts.
First publication date: 1645
RPO poem editor: Hugh MacCallum, A. S. P. Woodhouse
RP edition: 3RP 1.236.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/24*1:2002/11/3

Composition date: 1632
Form: sonnet
Rhyme: abbaabbacdedce

Other poems by John Milton