Featured Poem: We Live In Deeds, Not Years by Philip James Bailey

When you consider it, time is a simultaneously simple but strange thing. It’s something that we all share, particularly in those occasional but powerful fragments which can unite a national or international population. Yet mainly, time is something that matters most to the individual. We spend our own time, when free from any daily routines, in widely differing ways of our own choosing. Some never catch a moment to stop so occupied do they make their time; others see where the time takes them. Some spend their time wishing for another time to arrive…and all the while the clock ticks by. After all, time waits for no man. Just one of so many idioms on the subject – time flies when you’re having fun, time is of the essence, a stitch in time saves nine (nine of what exactly? Can’t say I’ve ever really grasped that one) – which shows that without doubt, time weighs heavy not just on our hands, but our minds.

I have considered the matter of time in some great detail lately, and have realised it probably isn’t the best way to fill my own precious moments. It isn’t helped by the fact we’ve just had a four day working week, where you’re inclined to spend the whole of Tuesday thinking it’s Monday and so on, but time really does seem to be slipping by almost unnoticed these days. The first quarter of the year has already vanished into thin air and it’s starting to make me feel just a little unsettled. I have always had the rather undesirable habit of getting ahead of myself but it seems to have accelerated in recent months. Of course there’s an up side to this but it got me to wondering: when exactly comes the moment when everything starts playing at double speed? It must be at some point around the 22/23 mark, as when you’re little time drags for the most part – especially when you’re counting down the days, weeks and months to Christmas/your birthday/the summer holidays. In your teens, you want time to hurry up so you can grow up and be taken seriously. Maybe I’m just too easily spooked – after all I’m not at the stage where I should have any legitimate worries about wasted time – but having spoken to friends of the same age, I have been assured I’m not alone. At the moment I’m inclined to agree with Douglas Adams, who said “Time is an illusion” in his novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

So I think it was perhaps more than coincidental that I happened to stumble upon this poem by Philip James Bailey the other day. A timely reminder – in this case, I think the pun is intended – that time should not be the main concern in our lives, nor is it the best way of measuring them. I’m equally reassured and inspired by this poem, and it’s always good when you can find a poem that speaks to you in such a way. In particular I find the following lines jumping out at me: “And he whose heart beats the quickest lives the longest/Lives in one hour more than in years do some/Whose fat blood sleeps as it slips along their veins”. If that isn’t a call to shout ‘Carpe Diem’ and live in the moment, then I don’t know what is. And with that I think I shall exchange my previous literary quote for another, one from Mansfield Park by the great Jane Austen: “Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.”

We Live In Deeds, Not Years

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.
And he whose heart beats quickest lives the longest:
Lives in one hour more than in years do some
Whose fat blood sleeps as it slips along their veins.
Life’s but a means unto an end; that end,
Beginning, mean, and end to all things—God.
The dead have all the glory of the world.

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902)

5 thoughts on “Featured Poem: We Live In Deeds, Not Years by Philip James Bailey”

  1. I think that the phrase ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is quite similar to the lines of the poem:

    “And he whose heart beats the quickest lives the longest/Lives in one hour more than in years do some/Whose fat blood sleeps as it slips along their veins”.

    In that your one stitch may prevent a far worse ‘tear’ from occuring – the stitch and the tear being metaphors and no it does not mean all those who do it are merely trying to ‘be safe’ – it hints (I always thought!) at something like the speed of human cognition which, should involve a passionate heart.

    Yet the quickest of beats and also heart-throbs’ reminds me of Hardy’s Tess who lived out the best and the most tragic of these rhythms – human time.

  2. TIME got me thinking . I often get extremely annoyed , because people ask me what have been doing and I say reading and then they look and say what else and i go writing and they still look blank and they say again WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING errrrr sleeping!!!

    The point I am trying to make is I don’t really do nothing with my life an auntie called round and said ” so still drifting about” and i just grunted and carried on reading , and was happy with my words so although i may not do anything significant with my 3 score years and 10 but i am happy reading and writing and occasionally sleeping.

    History is full of stories of so called great people but sometimes it is the more ordinary lives of things that bring home the horror or joy of an event.It was not til in Junior school and read ANNE FRANK that I understudy what the human cost was, sometimes it needs an ordinary person to tell a story to bring the truth home!!!!!

    IF I ever reach my 3 score years and 10 i and people ask what have you done with your life and i will think “oh God here we go again I read abot , i write abit and sometomes sleep , i may never set the world on fire but i was always told dont play wih matches!!!!

  3. Something above prompts me to think of purity and fusion, I love the three elements requisite for a little combustiveness here and there – fuel, heat and oxygen to be ever so slightly scientific. Which, also, importantly, makes me think of the following narrative:-

    ”I tell you , no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments. Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules”

    When he had spoken, I beheld the Angel, who stretched out his arms, embracing the flame of fire, & he was consumed and arose as Elijah.
    Note: This Angel, who is now become a Devil, is my particular friend; we often read the Bible together in its infernal or diabolical sense, which the world shall have if they behave well.
    I have also The Bible of Hell, which the world shall have whether they will or no.’ (Blake xxvii The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

    So, for all of you who may find on occasion that your fingers have been burnt (due to a passion for reading and writing) fear not, your heart embraced something virtuous and for all who may feel a little scared of this – read Blake and also think of the myth of the Phoenix,which ‘in time’ was consumed in its own flames but, then rose up as beautiful and fiery as ever – from its own ashes.

  4. Well…”blow me down”, “I”ll be damned”, “shiver me timbers”, “God damn it”! – As you can see I’m tring to work out why, or should I say “excuse” why I have recommended ‘all’ to read Blake when clearly I have not read ‘all’ of him myself.

    In providing the above mythical Phoenix example (of which I am very fond) I did not realise Blake also draws on this in relation to his ‘five senses’ – to do with the importance (infinitely within the finite) of the imaginative sense.

    Of course at the beginning of this I had relied upon reason, which interestingly, could only take me to four replies – so, Blake is one to contend with and my little ego is assuagued (for now).

    Happy, invigorating reading to all. x

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