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

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 12th April 2010

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)

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