On His Birthday (Sonnet 7) by John Milton

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
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.


The sonnet was written when Milton was twenty three years old. It expresses his disappointment at his non achievement. He is painted to realise that he has not achieved anything and not composed any poem of good worth.

Milton feels that twenty three years have passed very quickly. Time has stolen his youth. Now his youth age is almost over. In his mature age he has no poetic output worth mentioning. He says that his physical appearance is quite youthful. By looking at him people may not judge that he has reached manhood.His mental faculties have not fully developed and thus the poetic talents have yet not begun to reveal themselves. In this respect he is less fortunate then those whose natural gifts bear fruits in proper course of time in their life.

The mood of the poet changes in sestet of this sonnet. He says that he is under the will of God and the time will give him success and opportunity. Milton says that everything in his life is under the supervision and care of God, if only he has grace to use it. As a true devotee and servant to his great Task Master,the God, he is waiting for God’s will to grant him success.


This sonnet is about Milton himself. It is described as an inseparable part of Milton’s autobiography. This sonnet is titled as “On being arrived at twenty-three years of age”. It has been published under this title in “The English Poems of John Milton” by Oxford University Press, London in 1931.

Milton was determined to be a great poet and from his childhood he was seriously involved in his preparation to achieve his goal. Though he had shown adequate proof of his poetic genius while at Cambridge but he himself was notfully satisfied with all that.

In the octave of this sonnet the poet expresses his disappointment on not achieving his high ambitions in poetic field. He is sad that his youthful years have gone astray without any big achievement.

In the sestet, his mood appears to be changed. He says that all his life is under the eye of God, his great Task-Master. It appears that the poet is no longer disappointed. He has full faith in God’s supervision. He has dedicated his abilities to God as a faithful servant God will choose the appropriate time to make him successful with his poetic powers. And we know that God gave him power to compose his masterpieces when he was blind. Milton proved to bethe greatest poet of his times.


It is an autobiographical sonnet. It is first, a consideration of Milton’s little achievement to date, and secondly, a renewed and more decisive dedication of himself to God’s will and be at his mercy. Dedication has the effect of resolving his doubts and fears about not being successful.

The sonnet opens on a note of self-distrust. He is pained to realise that while others have attained success, he has failed to do so, inspite of being fully capable.

In the sestet, the poet, shows the spark of faith and dedication to God. He expresses his belief that sooner or later, God will choose the appropriate time to make him successful with his poetic powers and thus fulfil his wish.

Style & Structure

The style is grand. Its lofty religious passion is like the passion of the Habrew psalms. The thought and problem is presented in the octave. The solution of this problem is presented int he sestet. As in his other sonnets, here also the solution is in the form of having complete faith in God and waiting for the appropriate time when God would fulfil his wish. It is written in Petrarchean style. In its form, “On His Having Arrived at the Age of Twenty – Three” is an Italian sonnet (also known as a Petrarchan sonnet), written, like most sonnets, in iambic pentameter.

Its thematic organization closely follows the structure of the form, with two well developed movements corresponding to the eight-line octave and the six-line sestet. The octave follows the conventional Petrarchan rhyme scheme of abbaabba, while the sestet rhymes cdcdee, one of several conventional patterns.The octave breaks conventionally into two shorter movements, each consisting of a quatrain rhyming abba. The beginning of the sestet, where the rhyme scheme changes, is known as the turn of the sonnet because at this point an Italian sonnet’s theme or tone usually shifts. In the case of “On His Having Arrived at the Age of Twenty – Three” the transitional “But” signals a change from the impatient arrogance of the octave into the humbler prayer of the sestet.


It is very interesting to note that the imagery of the sonnet has nothing biblical about it. The imagery of the octave is that of time, as a thief and the garden of youth. The texture of the sestet is abstract. This sonnet is not scriptural like”On His Blindess”. Apart from ‘Great Task-Master’ this sonnet does not refer directly to any biblical reference. In the sestet ‘Time’ is personified and poet expresses his deep faith in time for attaining his success.

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