On Time

John Milton

Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race,
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
Whose speed is but the heavy Plummets pace,
And glut thy self with that thy womb devours,
Which is no more than what is false and vain,
And merely mortal dross,
So little is our loss,
So little is thy gain.

In this poem, Milton talks about the futility of time. He says that time has no relevance for us. We know that the time flies, i.e. it never stops. The poet challenges the time to run out its race. Milton says that time goes at the leisurely pace of hours. He calls it lazy because an hour takes a really long period of one hour to pass. Moreover, the speed of an hour is paced by a plummet which is quite heavy. Plummet is the device made of lead and is used for creating periodic motion in a clock. As per Milton, this is the ultimate irony. A fast paced entity, i.e. time is paced by a heavyweight lazy device.




Milton asks the time to become a glutton and swallow everything in its stomach. We know that everything would be ultimately devoured by time. But according to the poet, time can only destroy the mortal remains and cannot destroy what is eternal. So, while the time flies there is little loss for the soul and time has little to gain in terms of worth.

For when as each thing bad thou hast entombed,
And last of all, thy greedy self consumed,
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss
With an individual kiss,
And Joy shall overake us as a flood,
When every thing that is sincerely good
And perfectly divine,
With Truth and Peace, and Love shall ever shine

When the time will satiate all its hunger by consuming everything, then the eternity will come. When a man attains eternity or nirvana, he is flooded with the ultimate joy. After the destruction of all things mortal, the immortal will remain forever. And then, the immortal will be bask in the glory of truth, peace and love.




About the supreme Throne
Of him, to whose happy making sight alone,
When once our heavenly guided soul shall clime,
Then all this Earthy grossness quit,
Attired with Stars, we shall for ever sit,
Triumphin over Death, and Chance, and thee O Time.

When the man will reach the heavenly abode, he will leave behind all the grossness of mere mortals. He will be adorned with stars after the death, because death is not the end rather it marks the beginning of the nirvana.

Understanding the Poem

Question 1: Why has the poet pitted the flight of Time against the ‘lazy leaden-stepping hours’ and ‘the heavy Plummet’s pace’?

Answer: The poet is trying to make fun of time which always seems to be in a hurry, as if running a race. The poet challenges the time to run out its race. Milton says that time goes at the leisurely pace of hours. He calls it lazy because an hour takes a really long period of one hour to pass. Moreover, the speed of an hour is paced by a plummet which is quite heavy. Plummet is the device made of lead and is used for creating periodic motion in a clock. As per Milton, this is the ultimate irony. A fast paced entity, i.e. time is paced by a heavyweight lazy device.

Question 2: What are the things associated with the temporal and what are associated with the eternal?

Answer: Whatever tangible things are present within and around us are associated with the temporal. Moreover, all the bad things are temporal, according to the poet. Our soul and all the good things about the soul are eternal.

Question 3: What guides human souls towards divinity? Who is the final winner in the race against Time?

Answer: Thinking above the mortal affairs and aiming to attain the ultimate happiness in life guides human souls towards divinity. As per Hindu mythology, it can be termed as the pursuit of Moksha or Nirvana. Our soul is the final winner in the race against time. Time is ephemeral in nature, it dies every second. But our deeds last forever.




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