Paraphrase of How Soon Hath Time
Octave (Lines 1-8)
The sonnet starts with the poet complaining and expressing surprise over the fact that Time, a soft winged-thief of youth, has stolen away the twenty three years of his life very quickly. He further says that the days of his life are passing very swiftly, but his life and inner spirits, so far, have not shown any signs of growth. He does not find any budding or blossoming which may denote or decide the future course of his life. He feels that his appearance might be deceiving the truth. It is
a well-known fact that while studying at Cambridge, owing to his long hair and peculiar mannerism, Milton was known as the “Lady of the Christ’s”. Milton has this very fact in his mind and feels that his appearance does not show any signs of maturity, although he has reached very near to attaining manhood. He feels that although his outward appearance seems to be misleading and his inward ripeness or maturity does not appear at forefront at this very moment of time, yet at a very appropriate time everything will take place as per the will of the God.
Sestet (Lines 9-14)
Milton, after expressing unhappiness and discontent over the progress and growth he has made in his career so far, moves on to say that sooner or later, the will of the God will manifest itself and his career will definitely move in the pre-destined direction, and some day, he will definitely become a great poet. He believes that he is destined to become a poet, his fate, be it very low or high, will definitely turn the direction of his career and he is sure to become a great poet and write something great that would be in the form of great poetry. He feels that Time will definitely lead him to the direction he is destined to go, sooner or later, because it is the will of the God; whatever he has decided for him, is sure to take place in due course of time. The sonnet ends with the Poet’s strong belief that the will of the God is sure to be realized and he will definitely attain greatness a a poet. He feels that he is bound to become and do what the God or his Taskmaster, who observes all his activities and has an eye over them, wants him to become and do.
It is clear, by now, that the sonnet ‘How soon hath Time’ was composed on the twenty third birth anniversary of the poet John Milton. The sonnet has autobiographical elements, as Milton was unable to decide at that very point of time as to what would be the right occupation or career for him. He had two options; either to become an Anglican Priest or to become a Poet. So, in this sonnet, he is found to be on cross-road – a little hesitant to decide as to which way to go, but soon he realizes that he will become a poet, as he feels that it is the will of the God.
This sonnet is divided into an ‘octave’ followed by a ‘sestet’. It is written in iambic pentameter, i.e., each line has five pairs of stressed and unstressed syllables thereby making it ten syllables in all. The sonnet has a distinct rhyme-scheme. Generally, Miltonic Sonnet has the following rhyme-scheme: abba, abba for the ‘octave’ and cde, cde for the ‘sestet’, but in this sonnet, he has changed the rhyme-scheme and it is: abba, abba for the ‘octave’ and cde, dce for the ‘sestet’.