Text of the Poem

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol’n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew’th.

Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth     5
That I to manhood am arrived so near;
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy spirits endu’th.

Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even     10
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven;

All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great Task-Master’s eye.


  1. This line evokes the same ambition Milton expresses in his best-known sonnet, "On His Blindness," which begins with the following lines:

    When I consider how my light is spent
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one Talent which is death to hide
    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account...

    Milton evidently felt that he had one central talent, which was his undoubted talent for poetry. Milton often wrote of his life in terms of a divine purpose, mediated by God. In "On His Having Arrived at the Age of Twenty-Three," Milton refers to God as "my great Task-Master," which frames his poetic ambitions as his "Task."

    — William Delaney
  2. As he suggests in this line, Milton had delicate, even feminine features. He had very fair skin and wore his blond hair down to his shoulders. He was sometimes called "The Lady of Christ's College." Milton was ambitious to prove himself as a poet, scholar and writer. This can also be seen in his opening lines of his best-known poem "Lycidas" in which he says:

    Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more
    Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
    I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,
    And with forc'd fingers rude
    Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
    Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear
    Compels me to disturb your season due;

    He obviously knows he has great potential but does not yet feel ready to attempt the writing that will make him world-famous.

    — William Delaney