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Joseph Howe (1804-1873)

To the Town Clock


              1Thou grave old Time Piece, many a time and oft
              2    I've been your debtor for the time of day;
              3And every time I cast my eyes aloft,
              4    And swell the debt--I think 'tis time to pay.
              5Thou, like a sentinel upon a tower,
              6    Hast thou still announced "the enemy's" retreat,
              7And now that I have got a leisure hour,
              8    Thy praise, thou old Repeater, I'll repeat.

              9A very striking object, all must own,
            10    For years you've been, and may for years remain,
            11And though fierce storms around your head have blown,
            12    Your form erect, and clear and mellow tone,
            13Despite their violence, you still retain.

            14A "double face," some foolishly believe,
            15    Of gross deception is a certain sign;
            16But thy four faces may their fears relieve,
            17    For who can boast so frank a life as thine.
            18You ne'er disguised your thoughts for purpose mean,
            19    You ne'er conceal'd your knowledge from the crowd,
            20Like knaves and asses that I've sometimes seen,
            21    But what you knew with fearlessness avow'd.

            22Time, with his scythe, could never mow you down,
            23    Though you could cut him up in fragments small--
            24Showing his halves and quarters to the town,
            25    Old Quarter Master General for us all.
            26Though unambitious, still the highest place
            27    All ranks and classes cheerfully resign,
            28And "looking up to thee," feel no disgrace
            29    If to "look down on them" thou dost incline.
            30While some the Graces seek,
            31    And others love the Muse's rosy bowers--
            32Thou art content from week to week,
            33    To revel with the ever fleeting Hours.

            34How many curious scenes and odd displays
            35    You've gazed upon, since first you took your stand;
            36How many sad, how many brilliant days,
            37    You've had a hand in--Oh! that you could hand
            38        Your knowledge down--
            39Your Log--your Album--all your observations,
            40    Jokes and remarks, on what you've heard and seen;
            41If besides "note of time," your cogitations
            42    On all the doings that in time have been
            43        You had recorded,
            44No book would sell so well
            45        About the town,
            46    Nor any author be so well rewarded.

            47What various feelings, in the human heart,
            48        Thy tones have stirred;--
            49    How hast the Lover curs'd thee, when he heard
            50Thy voice proclaiming it was time to part.
            51        With what a start
            52    Of quick delight, about to be set free,
            53The schoolboy heard you say that it was three;
            54But then, next morning, how he'd sigh and whine
            55When you as frankly told him it was nine;
            56Oh! cruel Clock! thus carelessly to shout it,
            57        If e'er you'd play'd
            58At Ball, or By the Way, on the Parade,
            59You never would have said one word about it.

            60To wretch, condemn'd for flagrant crimes to swing,
            61What horrid anguish would thy clear tones bring,
            62        Telling his hour!
            63But, to the pilloried scoundrel, placed on high,
            64Round whom stale fish and rotten eggs did fly--
            65        A fearful shower!
            66Whose dodging shoulders, and averted eye,
            67Half uttered prayer, or sharp and piercing cry,
            68        Betray'd his fears;
            69Who thought "his hour" would surely last all day,
            70Sweet was thy welcome voice, when it did say
            71        The storm about his ears
            72Should cease and die away.

            73How oft hast thou observ'd the hapless wight,
            74Who'd toil'd, and raked, and scraped, from morning light,
            75        Till nearly three;
            76And yet had not enough his Note to pay,
            77        Turn round to thee;
            78While throbbing brow, and nervous gait did say,
            79Hold--hold--good Clock, another quarter stay--
            80    For if I cannot raise, or beg or borrow,
            81    My credit will have died before tomorrow,
            82For this I do assure you's, my "last day."
            83The Sun stood still, at Joshua's command,
            84Oh! be as kind, or I can never stand;
            85Ah! do--if you of pity have one drop,
            86If you "go on," by Heaven I'll have "to stop."

            87How many dashing blades have gone to pot,
            88    Who sought on Folly's files the first to be;
            89But never one, of all the precious lot,
            90    Could live, old friend, so long "on tick" as thee.
            91The cunning fellows, too, thou put'st to shame,
            92    Who scheme, and plot, and plan from morn till eve;
            93Thy "wheels within wheels" always go the same,
            94    While they, some "screw loose" failing to perceive,
            95On ev'ry side their wreck'd machinery leave.

            96        A good example
            97To all the idle chaps about the town,
            98        Who trample
            99On precepts by economists set down,
          100        You always gave;
          101Your "hands" were going night and day;
          102From year to year you toil'd away
          103        Like any slave;
          104Your limbs from heavy weights no hour were free
          105And "Sunday dawned no holiday to thee."
          106You "the whole figure" went while others faltered,
          107And howsoe'er times changed, your time ne'er altered.

Notes

1] The Old Town Clock of Halifax, Howe's home, still stands. See the photographs in The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2nd edn. (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988): II, 952, 954.

33] the Hours: classical goddesses of the seasons, the law-dictating daughters of Zeus and Themis.

83] Joshua's command: he ordered God to stop the sun and the moon so that Israel could finish its destruction of the armies of the Amorites:

12 Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel,
"Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon,
and thou Moon in the valley of Aijahon."
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.
(Joshua 10: 12-13)

90] "on tick": on credit, short for "ticket"


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Hon. Joseph Howe, Poems and Essays (Montreal: John Lovell, 1874): 165-68.
First publication date: 1874
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1997.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/7

Composition date: 1836
Composition date note: (M. G. Parks, ed., Acadia [London, Canada: Canadian Poetry Press, 1989): xi]
Form note: irregular


Other poems by Joseph Howe