The Old Clock on the Stairs by Longfellow

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, January 6, 1913:  Copied off parts of a dialogue this evening. We are getting ready for our next meeting.


Source: Osgood’s American Sixth Reader

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

The meeting probably refers to the Literary Society at Grandma’s high school.

What dialogue did she copy?

I browsed through a very old book called Osgood’s American Sixth Reader. The book focused on elocution, and contained lots of poems and prose for students to memorize…. Shakespeare. . Chaucer. .. Dickens. . .

I found myself drawn to a poem by Longfellow (probably because it was one the few that contained an illustration that I could use in this post.  :))

The Old Clock on the Stairs

H. W. Longfellow

1. Somehwat back from the village street

Stands the old-fashion’d country-seat;

Across its antique portico,

Tall poplar-trees their shadows throw;

And from its station in the hall

An ancient time-piece says to all,




2. 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,




3. 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,




4.  Throughout days of sorrow and of mirth,

Through days of death and days of birth,

Through every swift vicissitude

Of changeful time, unchanged it stood,

And as if, like God, it all things saw,

It calmly repeats those words of awe:–




5.  In that mansions used to be

Free-hearted hospitality;

His great fires up the chimney roar’d,

The stranger feasted at his board;

But, like the skeleton at the feast,

That warning time-piece never ceased:–




6.  There groups of merry children play’d:

There youths and maidens, dreaming stray’d;

Oh, precious hours! Oh, golden prime,

And affluence of love and time!

Even as a miser counts his gold.

Those hours the ancient time-piece told:–




7.  From that chamber, clothed in white,

The bride came forth on her wedding night;

There, in that silent room below,

The dead lay in its shroud of snow;

And in the hush that follow’d the prayer

Was heard the old clock on the stair:–




8.  All are scatter’d 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 time-piece makes reply,–




9.  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:–



11 Responses

  1. Even if you had not said this was by Longfellow, I would have thought it was by him. I really like some of his poems, but had not seen this one.

  2. I had never read that and quite enjoyed it, thanks Sheryl

  3. The poem is so neat…love it.

  4. Old readers are some of my favorite books. Like the one you selected.

  5. That is a wonderful poem, it encompasses life and passing beautifully.

  6. What a lovely idea, and what a beautiful gift you are giving!

  7. Again, I love how your grandmother’s journal is catalyst to your own discoveries. Wonderful poem and even more wonderful (to me) is that illustration!

  8. I love that poem! Thank you for sharing!

  9. […] pieces Grandma memorized for Literary Society presentations at her high school. For example, on January 6, she wrote that she copied off part of a dialogue to memorize. My post that day included a poem […]

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