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The Use of Time in Poetry: Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth

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Essay title: The Use of Time in Poetry: Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth

Throughout the Elizabethan and Romantic era, time and nature are themes that are ever-present in the

great poetry of the period. Although the poets presented this idea in different ways, it was clear that time

and nature were major influences on each man’s writing and that each of them were, in a sense, extremely

frustrated by the concept of time. It appeared to me that each poet, in some form, felt empty and

unaccomplished, and they all consider as true that time is not on their side. In Shakespeare’s Sonnet

LXXIII, the poet is an older man comparing his life to such things as night and day, the four seasons, and

as a fire in a fire. Shakespeare uses these images to show us just how quickly time passes. I found his

representation of life as the cycle of day and night particularly insightful.

“In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.”

To Shakespeare, dawn is the birth of a child, mid-day is a child’s youth, and twilight, his current

stage, is the stage of life when death is approaching, although it has not yet arrived. The sun has set, and

the sky is a beautiful color, but the black night, death, will take that all away. He knows he is past his prime

and now he just awaits death. It is easy to see that Shakespeare is quite frustrated because he knows that

death is coming, but he doesn’t know when it is coming. The comparison of the cycle of day and night to

the cycle of life made me realize how hurried life is and how you should appreciate and make the most of

the time you have. The phrase “death’s second self” is especially strong as he is saying that every time

you go to sleep, it is like a small death. Every time you go to sleep, you lose another day. Shakespeare

resolves this problem with a couplet that screams love me now while I am still here because when I am

gone you will regret not loving me.

Time is also a main theme in Milton’s “How Soon Hath Time”. Milton, however, is concerned

because he feels that he has nothing to show for his life and he is scared that death is approaching him.

He personifies time, calling it “the subtle thief of youth”. At the age of 23, he can’t believe how time is just

passing him by. It is clear in lines 5-8 that he is frustrated, saying that although on the outside he may look

like a child, inside he is a mature man.

“Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,

That I to manhood am arriv’d so near,

And inward ripeness doth much less appear...”

He knows God has given him a talent, but he hasn’t been able to do anything with it yet and he is afraid


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