Close Reading of “ How Soon Hath Time” Milton’s sonnet “ How Soon Hath Time” is a Petrarchian style poem written in iambic pentameter. It has a rhyme scheme of a, b, b, a, a, b, b, a, c, d, e, d, c, e. Each four line stanza makes up one complete sentence. This structure is ideally suitable to the iambic pentameter style of the sonnet. Structuring the four line stanzas this way also constructs a cohesive thought. After the first and second four line stanzas there is major punctuation in the form of a period. This successful divides the poem up and the octave into two sections.
The meter is consistent and regular giving the sonnet a smooth rhythm and a nice easy flow when spoken aloud. Each line contains five beats although Milton does deceive the reader by fiddling with the words shortening come of them, such as “ stol’n” and “ shew’th”. There is one point in the sonnet, however, where he does not shorten the word. This is located in line ten with the word “ even”. By not shortening “ even”, Milton complicates the rhythm. Typically sonnets are thought poems where problems are explored. In John Milton’s “ How Soon Hath Time”, Milton explores problems such as life, aging, and expected achievements.
There is an obvious autobiographical component to this sonnet; as such Milton is the ultimate speaker in the poem. In the first octet, Milton condemns aging and mourns over the passage of 23 years of his life. He portrays an atmosphere of frustration that aging is inevitable and that time is passing too quickly. In the same section the atmosphere or mood created by the speaker is fearful and disappointed. He is disappointed by his lack of achievements and that he hasn’t done as well as he had hoped by the age of 23. Milton is worried that time is passing too quickly.
He believes that he has not been productive enough and has wasted a lot of time. Milton has an extremely youthful appearance and distressed that the world does not accept his as an adult due to this aspect. He states that his “ semblance might deceive the truth” (l. 5), meaning that his outward appearance does not speak to his maturity. He compares his delayed physical maturity to that of “ late spring” (l. 4). He even compares his maturity to that of a fruit, saying that he has “ inward ripeness” (l. 7), suggesting that internally he is mature or ripe which does not appear externally.
The sonnets main theme is obviously time as almost every line has a reference to it. In the first line Milton personifies time by capitalizing it and referring to it as a “ subtle thief” (l. 1). By doing this, Milton is intensifying time’s power. In line 12, he emphasizes the control time has over a man’s life stating that time is leading him towards something, an ultimate goal, along with “ the will of heaven” (l. 12). A “ volta [which is] also called a turn is a sudden change in thought, direction, or emotion near the conclusion of a sonnet. Typically, the first section of the sonnet states a premise, asks a question, or suggests a theme.
The concluding lines after the volta resolve the problem by suggesting an answer, offering a conclusion, or shifting the thematic concerns in a new direction” (Abrams and Harpham). In this sonnet the volta occurs at line nine with the word “ Yet”. The mood in this line changes from disappointment and frustration to introspective and acceptance. In lines 11 and 12 Milton recognizes that time is inevitable and also his own mortality. He says that even though it might be “ less or more”, referring to his achievements, and “ soon or slow”, referring to time, that God is in control.
He decides to wait for the grace of God to show him to his destiny. He realizes that time and God are both taking him to the same place and that his apparent wasted present does not matter because God is in control and time is unavoidable and unobtainable. The overall theme of the poem is the passing of time. At first Milton, whom is the speaker, condemns the passing of time and of aging. He is disappointed that he has not achieved more in his 23 years of life and feels as though the time he has spent on this earth was wasteful.
He is also disheartened that people do not perceive him to be a man and mature as a result of his incredibly youthful external appearance despite his internal maturity. At the volta Milton considers the will of heaven and God’s ultimate plan. He realizes that God is in control of his destiny and decides to trust that and accept what he cannot change. Works Cited: Abrams, M. H. , Harpham, Geoffery. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 10th edition. Boston, Mass. : Wadsworth Cengage Learning. , 2012. Print. Milton, John. The Major Works. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.
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