The first 2 lines of "How soon hath Time" establish the poem's initial concerns as the poem's speaker, a young man of 23, reflects on his life. Far from being satisfied with what he's accomplished, he feels that his life is flying by. The speaker feels a sense of loss, as though time has deprived him of something vital and precious. In this way, he suggests that he measures his own life in response to an external standard: he feels that he should have done something important with his youth, but time has robbed him of the opportunity to do so.
In the speaker's estimation, time is a malicious and active force that makes decisions and has intentions. What's more, these intentions are dark: time is described in strikingly negative terms as someone who steals from the speaker. Time is further described as a figure with wings. Though the speaker resists directly identifying time with any particular tradition, time behaves in the poem like a demi-god: a creature with magical powers capable of shaping the world. In this respect, time is perhaps most closely aligned with figures from Greek mythology like Hermes, a winged trickster god who often interferes in human affairs.
The presence of this demi-god raises theological questions for the poem. As the poem unfolds, it becomes clear that its speaker is a committed Christian. One might wonder about the relationship between time and God himself, asking, for instance, whether time is independent of God, or an expression of His will.
The first 2 lines of form a single grammatical unit, with an enjambment at the end of line one and an end-stop at the end of line 2. This establishes a pattern that will hold through the first 8 lines of the poem of, alternating enjambed and end-stopped lines. The lines are similarly in strong iambic pentameter, which suggests an underlying temporal regularity. Finally, the poem—which is a Petrarchan sonnet—introduces here the two rhyme sounds that will recur throughout its first eight lines, -uth and -ear. The regular return of these rhymes at precisely the expected intervals provides another form of reinforcement to the poem's rhythm—and thus to its underlying sense of organized time.