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A Clock Describes People

Their faces do not show the time of day
But something called emotion: what that is,
I’ve no idea; but I can tell you this:
they worry as the hours slip away.
“Time’s a great healer.” So they like to say,
and yet it carves deep lines upon each face
and breaks their spirits as the decades pass,
and saps their strength, and turns their hair to grey.

One tragic fact about them I have found:
in each of them, there is a kind of spring,
but when it stops, they cannot be rewound.
So time, for them, is the most precious thing.
“Gather ye rosebuds!” they proclaim. “Make haste!”
But oh! The decades these poor creatures waste!

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David Whippman is a British poet, now retired after a career in healthcare. Over the years he’s had quite a few poems, articles and short stories published in various magazines.


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28 Responses

  1. Phil S. Rogers

    David;
    So very, very, true as the clock seems to fly in the last few hours, and you wonder where your life disappeared. This time truly is the ‘most precious thing,’ yet how many of us actually make the most of it?

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Thanks Phil. I’m in my 70s, so this was written from the heart!

      Reply
  2. Stephen M. Dickey

    Great poem on time. I will memorize this for sure.
    I don’t know whether in lines 5–8 you were thinking of them, but Eliot wrote the following: “You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure:/That time is no healer: The patient is no longer here.”

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Thanks Stephen. I didn’t know those lines of Eliot’s, but they ring true.

      Reply
  3. Roy Eugene Peterson

    For those of us in our senior years this finds resonance as we wonder where the time has gone and why we wasted so much of it! Your words have so much wisdom. Thank you for the reminder and sharing this serious message.

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Thanks Roy. I guess I am not so wise, or I wouldn’t have wasted so much time myself!

      Reply
  4. Paul A. Freeman

    Clocks personified, Batman!

    Excellent stuff, David, and so perceptive.

    Thanks for the read.

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Thank you, Paul. I got fascinated by clocks when I was about 16, not sure why. So this poem was a long time in the making!

      Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    Having the clock as a speaker is a daring twist. A clock (a facially numbered chronometer that rings or chimes at intervals) has been a part of our culture for so long that we could consider it a kind of companion. There are fewer and fewer clocks of this nature around, since they are rapidly being replaced by non-analog digital timepieces — horribly soulless and robotic things, without a shred of imagined personality.

    The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had a collection of clocks, which in his old age he spent long hours trying to synchronize. A writer once said, in a memorable passage, that the image of this elderly monarch wandering among his timepieces winding and recalibrating them “emits the frost of death.” I never forgot these words.

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Thanks Joseph. You’re right; this poem wouldn’t really work if you think of a modern electronic timepiece. My stepdad had a wooden-cased clock, a family heirloom I believe, and that was in my mind when I wrote the piece.

      Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Joseph, your comment makes me wonder if any long ago expressed similar negative sentiments towards mechanical analogue clocks in comparison with sundials. (I’d actually guess probably not.)

      Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    This inspired sonnet uses time tropes to great effect and reminds me to make the most of every day I have without worrying so much. Time really does flash by, and your words have brought on a carpe-diem mood… I hope it lasts at least until my next poem. David, thank you!

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Thanks Susan. I first wrote this as free verse, but (like most of my efforts at free verse!) it rambled a bit. The sonnet structure here gave me a useful framework.

      Reply
  7. Brian A. Yapko

    David, like Joe I really enjoyed the clock as the unexpected speaker in this poem. Giving voice to inanimate speakers is a difficult (but fun) challenge and you have handled it with great skill and sensitivity. Of course, it’s almost a head-slapping moment to realize that personifying a clock is a natural — it already has a face and hands and some, like cuckoo clocks, even speak. I’m reminded of the old song “My Grandfather’s Clock.” And, of course, there’s the animated clock in “Beauty and the Beast.” But if you think about it, there is no limit to the number of potential inanimate speakers out there, whether it be trains, trees or the fading walls of an abandoned house.

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Thanks Brian. This device of viewing things via an object is far from new, of course. I thought it worked quite well in this case. But maybe I am biased!

      Reply
  8. Cynthia Erlandson

    This is delightful, David! I love that you’ve personified the clock, and given it such interesting thoughts about people, and time’s effects on them (even to carving “deep lines upon each face” — a great image!) The thought about the spring that stops and “cannot be rewound” is poignant.

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Many thanks Cynthia, glad you like the poem. I’m fascinated by the irony that clocks measure time while being largely immune to its effects.

      Reply
  9. Sally Cook

    Wonderful twist on time in this poem ! My father also had a collection of timepieces , some of which I inherited. Each has its story. The Grandfather’s clock stopped the time of his brother’s death, never to go again as they say. Another chimed 13 during a Halloween party I held. What a wonderful conglomeration of sound when they all went off !
    One great experience, growing up with clocks Did you?.

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Thanks Sally. Well, I remember in my early teens being fascinated by an old wooden-cased clock of my stepdad’s. That I guess was when the germ of this poem began.

      Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Sally, if you haven’t written a poem on that Hallowe’en incident, it’s begging you to do so.

      Reply
  10. Margaret Coats

    A poet contrasts clock and persons. The clock remembers proverbs, wonders about unknown emotion, and possesses timely wisdom. You make sense of an intricately observant character. Much to appreciate, David.

    Reply
  11. Julian D. Woodruff

    This brings to my mind a strange incident. It involved a performance of Stockhausen’s early percussion piece, Zyklus (visually quite analogous to an analogue clock, as the performer, surrounded by his instruments, slowly completes one 360 degree turn in the course of the piece). The performance was supposed (S’s dictum) 8 minutes and some-odd seconds; S carefully monitored the performer’s progress with his (analogue) wristwatch until the appointed moment, then completely lost interest for the rest of the performance, which lasted roughly 16 minutes! Despite the performer’s choice elements in that score, what a control freak Herr S was.

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Julian, was Stockhausen the guy who was into atonal music? I forced myself to listen to some of it. (A little!) Anyone who could write such stuff is bound to be rather strange!

      Reply
  12. Cheryl Corey

    Your lovely sonnet resonates on many levels: how you’ve incorporated the line of Herricks; the concept of the “spring” that can’t be “unwound”, which can refer to a clock mechanism, the spring of one’s youth necessitating the need to gather those rosebuds, the season of spring currently underway. At least, these are some of my take-aways.

    Reply
  13. C.B. Anderson

    Timely, and as precise as well=engineered clockwork. Time is indeed the greatest thief, and yet we keep it.

    Reply
    • David Whippman

      Thanks CB. I think my fascination with clocks was helped along when, as a schoolboy, I saw Dali’s painting with the drooping clock faces in an art book.

      Reply

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