Jul 1, 2009

Playing With a Sonnet

by Anna Arnett

Snatches from Milton’s sonnet that begins “How soon hath time” keep running through my head.  I especially like the phrases, “time, the subtle thief of youth,” and “My hasting days fly on with full career,” and “inward ripeness doth much less appear.”  They seem to call out to me.

Perhaps it’s a warning that I’d better wake up and take my writing seriously. 

I changed a few words to make it fit me, and felt quite pleased.  I hesitate to post it, though, because I have yet to find anybody willing to admit joy when I figuratively hog-tie them and make them listen to me spout a Miltonian sonnet.  

I know I’m doubling the dosage, since (1) sonnets aren’t best sellers nowadays, and (2) the language and phrasing is odd.  Milton wrote during the beginning stages of modern English, which beginnings are already almost archaic.  However, we're adept in it if we read Shakespeare and the King James Bible.

To paraphrase Milton, I think he means, Time’s a wasting, and at 23 he not only looks too young, but he hasn’t matured as much as some others his age.  However, if he keeps plugging along and trusting in God, it will all turn out okay.   I think he’s probably talking more of his writing talent than of his physical features.

Here’s his original.  Decide for yourself if that’s what it says to you.


How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,

Stol'n on his wings my three and twentieth year!

My hasting days fly on with full career,

But my late spring no bud or blossom show'th.

Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,

That I to manhood am arriv'd 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 ev'n

To that same lot, however mean or high,

Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav'n;

All is, if I have grace to use it so,

As ever in my great task-Master's eye.

        John Milton (1632)


My words, changed to fit me, are in italics. They were fun to make

Translation:  At almost 84, my days are shorter and I still have not published enough to brag about.  So many of you young’uns have, and I would be jealous, except my trust in God tells me to quit worrying, but use my time wisely, stick with ANWA, and work hard,


How quickly Time, the subtle thief of youth,

Steals on its wings my four and eightieth year!

My hasting days fly on with full career,

But my late spring no publication show'th.

Perhaps my wrinkles might deceive the truth,

That I to writing am so lately near,

And inward talent doth much less appear,

That you more timely-happy spirits knoweth,

Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,

I still shall write in strictest measure even

To that same plot, however mean or high,

Where ANWA leads me, and the will of Heaven;

All is, though I with effort write it so,

Dependent on my great Publisher’s eye.

                        —John Milton (1632)

—italics indicate changes by Anna Laurene Arnett (2009)

 Okay, it was fun, but I'm not sure even I like it.


  1. Anna, you have such a marvelous gift. I love you sense of humor, your wisdom, and your perspective. you always make me smile...and bring joy to my heart! Keep writing!

  2. Anna I'm rolling. I've never been very good at poetry although I admit a fondess for Shakespeare's sonnets...still in all, good job, well done. Would be a terrific exercise for high school english classes. After all, the things that troubled them still trouble us.

  3. Anna, you are such a genious! Hey, email me at cindywilliams@q.com with the number to your son's spa retreat will you please? Thanks!


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