'Old Clock on the Stairs, The' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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L'eternite est une pendule, dont le balancier dit et redit sans
cesse ces deux mots seulement dans le silence des tombeaux:
"Toujours! jamais!Jamais! toujours!"--JACQUES BRIDAINE.
Somewhat back from the village street
Stands the old-fashioned country-seat.
Across its antique portico
Tall poplar-trees their shadows throw;
And from its station in the hall
An ancient timepiece says to all,--
Half-way up the stairs it stands,
And points and beckons with its hands
From its case of massive oak,
Like a monk, who, under his cloak,
Crosses himself, and sighs, alas!
With sorrowful voice to all who pass,--
By day its voice is low and light;
But in the silent dead of night,
Distinct as a passing footstep's fall,
It echoes along the vacant hall,
Along the ceiling, along the floor,
And seems to say, at each chamber-door,--
Through days of sorrow and of mirth,
Through days of death and days of birth,
Through every swift vicissitude
Of changeful time, unchanged it has stood,
And as if, like God, it all things saw,
It calmly repeats those words of awe,--
In that mansion used to be
His great fires up the chimney roared;
The stranger feasted at his board;
But, like the skeleton at the feast,
That warning timepiece never ceased,--
There groups of merry children played,
There youths and maidens dreaming strayed;
O precious hours! O golden prime,
And affluence of love and time!
Even as a Miser counts his gold,
Those hours the ancient timepiece told,--
From that chamber, clothed in white,
The bride came forth on her wedding night;
There, in that silent room below,
The dead lay in his shroud of snow;
And in the hush that followed the prayer,
Was heard the old clock on the stair,--
All are scattered now and fled,
Some are married, some are dead;
And when I ask, with throbs of pain.
"Ah! when shall they all meet again?"
As in the days long since gone by,
The ancient timepiece makes reply,--
Never here, forever there,
Where all parting, pain, and care,
And death, and time shall disappear,--
Forever there, but never here!
The horologe of Eternity
Sayeth this incessantly,--
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Timeless Melancholy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Old Clock on the Stairs"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Old Clock on the Stairs" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time, resonating with readers for over a century. The poem is a hauntingly beautiful depiction of the passage of time, the inevitability of change, and the transience of human life.
The poem is divided into two stanzas, with each stanza consisting of eight lines. The first stanza sets the scene, describing the old clock on the stairs as it ticks away the hours. The clock is personified, given human qualities, as it "stands at the head of the stairs" and "ticks the minutes off as if they were beads." The clock is described as old and worn, with a "voice like a sentinel's" that "startles the waves in the ocean's ear."
The second stanza takes a melancholy turn, as the speaker reflects on the passing of time and the inevitability of change. The speaker notes that the clock has "measured the moments" of many lives, and that "the steps of the years" have "worn" away the "carpet" on the stairs. The final lines of the poem are particularly poignant, as the speaker notes that "the clock, the old clock" will continue ticking long after the current generation has passed away.
At its core, "Old Clock on the Stairs" is a meditation on the passage of time and the transience of human life. The clock serves as a metaphor for the human experience, ticking away the seconds, minutes, and hours of our lives. The clock's voice, described as a "sentinel's," serves as a reminder that time is constantly watching, ever present, and unstoppable.
The line "the steps of the years / Have worn the carpet" is especially powerful, as it suggests that time is not just a passive observer but an active force that erodes away the physical world around us. The image of the worn carpet is a metaphor for the wear and tear of life, the scars and the memories that accumulate over time.
Longfellow's poem also emphasizes the inevitability of change. The clock's ticking serves as a constant reminder that nothing stands still, that everything is in a constant state of flux. The fact that the clock "ticks the minutes off as if they were beads" emphasizes the idea that time is something to be counted and measured, that it is finite and that we must make the most of the time we have.
The final lines of the poem are particularly powerful, as they emphasize the idea that the clock will outlast us all. The repetition of the phrase "the clock, the old clock" emphasizes the timelessness of the clock, and the fact that it will continue ticking long after we are gone underscores the transience of human life.
Longfellow's "Old Clock on the Stairs" is a classic example of Romantic poetry, with its emphasis on nature, emotion, and individualism. The poem is characterized by its use of personification, metaphor, and imagery to convey its themes of time, change, and transience.
One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of personification. By giving the clock human qualities, Longfellow is able to create a powerful sense of empathy and connection between the reader and the clock. The clock becomes more than just a piece of machinery; it becomes a symbol of our own mortality and the passing of time.
The poem's use of metaphor is also powerful. The clock serves as a powerful metaphor for the human experience, with its ticking representing the passage of time and the inevitability of change. The worn carpet is a metaphor for the wear and tear of life, and the image of the waves being startled by the clock's voice is a metaphor for the power of time to disrupt even the most stable of things.
Finally, the poem's use of imagery is particularly effective. The image of the old clock standing at the head of the stairs is haunting, and the description of its voice "startling the waves in the ocean's ear" is both vivid and memorable. The use of imagery throughout the poem helps to create a powerful sense of atmosphere, and helps to convey the poem's themes in a visceral and emotional way.
In conclusion, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Old Clock on the Stairs" is a timeless masterpiece of Romantic poetry, with its powerful use of personification, metaphor, and imagery to convey its themes of time, change, and transience. The poem's haunting atmosphere and poignant imagery have resonated with readers for over a century, and its message remains as relevant today as it was when it was first written. As Longfellow himself wrote, "Art is long, and Time is fleeting."
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Old Clock on the Stairs: A Timeless Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, wrote a timeless poem titled "Old Clock on the Stairs." This poem is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the passage of time and the inevitability of change. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and literary devices.
The poem begins with a vivid description of an old clock on the stairs, which is ticking away the hours and marking the passage of time. The clock is personified as an old man, with a "voice" that speaks to the poet and evokes a sense of nostalgia and melancholy. The clock's ticking is described as a "monotonous cadence," which creates a sense of repetition and routine. This repetition is a reminder that time is always moving forward, and that we cannot stop or slow it down.
The second stanza of the poem introduces the theme of change, as the poet reflects on the people who have come and gone in his life. He describes the "footsteps on the floor" that have faded away, and the "voices that are heard no more." This imagery creates a sense of loss and sadness, as the poet realizes that everything in life is temporary and fleeting. The clock's ticking becomes a metaphor for the passage of time, which is constantly erasing the past and moving us towards an uncertain future.
The third stanza of the poem introduces a new theme, that of memory and nostalgia. The poet reflects on the memories that are associated with the old clock, and how they are intertwined with his own personal history. He describes the "echoes that still remain" of the people and events that have passed, and how they are preserved in his memory. This theme of memory is important, as it highlights the role that the past plays in shaping our present and future.
The fourth stanza of the poem returns to the theme of change, as the poet reflects on the inevitability of death. He describes the "dust and decay" that will eventually claim the clock and everything else in the world. This imagery creates a sense of mortality and reminds us that our time on earth is limited. The clock's ticking becomes a symbol of our own mortality, as it reminds us that our time is running out.
The fifth and final stanza of the poem brings all of these themes together, as the poet reflects on the meaning of life. He describes the "solemn and strange" feeling that comes with the realization that everything in life is temporary and fleeting. He concludes the poem with a powerful image of the old clock on the stairs, which continues to tick away the hours even as everything else changes around it. This image is a reminder that, despite the inevitability of change and the passage of time, there are some things that remain constant and enduring.
In terms of structure, the poem is written in five stanzas of four lines each, with a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB. This structure creates a sense of symmetry and balance, which is appropriate for a poem that is exploring the themes of time and change. The use of repetition and imagery also adds to the poem's overall impact, as it creates a sense of unity and coherence.
In terms of literary devices, the poem makes use of personification, metaphor, and imagery to convey its themes. The personification of the clock as an old man is particularly effective, as it creates a sense of intimacy and familiarity with the reader. The metaphor of the clock's ticking as a symbol of the passage of time is also powerful, as it creates a sense of urgency and inevitability. The use of imagery, such as the "footsteps on the floor" and the "echoes that still remain," creates a sense of nostalgia and longing, which adds to the poem's emotional impact.
In conclusion, "Old Clock on the Stairs" is a timeless poem that explores the themes of time, change, memory, and mortality. Through its use of personification, metaphor, and imagery, the poem creates a powerful and poignant reflection on the human experience. The poem's structure and literary devices add to its impact, creating a sense of unity and coherence. Overall, this poem is a testament to Longfellow's skill as a poet, and to the enduring power of poetry to capture the essence of the human condition.
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