Adnax Publications

John Milton

< On Time

 
Poems (1645, 37)
composed 1632 (24)

Fly, envious Time, till thou run out thy race, 
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours, 
Whose speed is but the heavy plummet's pace; 
And glut thy self with what thy womb devours, 
Which is no more then what is false and vain, 
And meerly mortal dross; 
So little is our loss, 
So little is thy gain. 
For when as each thing bad thou hast entomb'd, 
And last of all, thy greedy self consum'd, 
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss 
With an individual kiss; 
And Joy shall overtake us as a flood, 
When every thing that is sincerely good 
And perfectly divine, 
With Truth, and Peace, and Love shall ever shine 
About the supreme throne 
Of him, t'whose happy-making sight alone, 
When once our heav'nly-guided soul shall climb, 
Then all this Earthy grosnes quit, 
Attired with stars we shall for ever sit,
Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee, O Time.

Plummet : weight that drives the mechanism in a grandfather clock.

Commentary

This poem expresses a fairly traditional Christian view about time, shown as defeated by the achievement of eternal life through Christian salvation. The figures and conceits are well worked, the rhythms variable and interesting, and the poem is on the whole more closely reasoned through its apparent paradoxes than similar thoughts expressed by Shakespeare. The comparison is interesting. Shakespeare's paradox seems to be born of poetic curiosity, while Milton's curiosity is more intellectual. Shakespeare's writing is characterised by a poetic spirit, while Milton's is characterised by felicity of expression and delightful conceits. Comus, for example, is like a box of chocolates. Shakespeare's world is rougher, more jarring, more violent, and comprises a wider, less intellectual, more emotionally compelling context. His vanity is more obvious, but less corrupting. Milton conceals his vanity behind his erudition and his smoothness of expression.

Most of the imagery is unremarkable, except, that is, at line four, which contains the astonishing, somewhat troubling image of a womb that devours. This is not what wombs are designed to do. No wonder that he frightened off his first wife.

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