Today’s post is a poem by John Milton. Milton is one of my favorite poets because of Paradise Lost, one of my favorite works of literature ever. I took a class in my senior year of college based entirely on Milton (shoutout to my amazing professor at Fordham University) and in the first week or so of class, she assigned Sonnet VII to us, written by Milton when he was 23 years old:
ON HIS BEING ARRIVED AT THE AGE OF 23.
HOW soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom sheweth.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
That I to manhood am arrived so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear
That some more timely happy spirits indueth.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even
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 taskmaster’s eye.
In case you’re like, “ugh poetry,” this poem is basically about the fear and anxiety Milton feels at having accomplished little by this age, and it’s also about the future that he knows is his: a literary career. “Toward which time leads me and the will of heaven” is basically like, “I know I haven’t done much to further my career right now, but I know that I will soon be working toward my destiny, because God wills it.”
At this time, Milton was 23 and all his friends were publishing while Milton was at home just reading and studying. His friends were like, “Bro. What are you doing with your life?” And he was defending himself against their criticism, expressing anxiety, but also asserting his opinion that he wasn’t wasting his time studying, learning, and reading: he knew that his future held something good, and he was okay taking his time to get there, as long as he was quietly (and slowly) working. Also, he was like, “Dudes, get off my back. You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
I picked this poem to share today because I’m 23, and I feel such anxiety sometimes about the future — I think all of us do. I think it’s sort of inspiring and comforting to know that one of the most successful English poets ever felt totally lost at 23, too. I keep remembering this poem even though I first read it over two years ago, and it’s a nice reminder that as long as I keep working, it’s okay if I don’t have everything figured out all at once. Yaknow?
Happy Sunday and have a great week!