Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sands of Time

The hour-glass was not only used in Puritan pulpits to measure sermon-time, but also placed on tombstones to remind passers-by of the brevity of life. It is a common motif in classic poetry which in the age of digital clocks may perhaps seem obsolete or irrelevant to modern man, but even so, the sands of time, representing our days as they are measured out by the hand of God, are finite, and the consideration of them is meant to stir us to apply our hearts to wisdom (Ps. 90.12). So if you see an hour-glass in an antique shop or read the following lines, take a moment to consider. It is time well-spent.

When children learned the alphabet from The New England Primer they would read:

G As runs the Glass,
Our Life doth pass.

The hour-glass motif appears in George Herbert's The Temple more than once, including these lines from Church Monuments which are reminiscent of Isa. 40.6:

That flesh is but the glasse, which holds the dust
That measures all our time; which also shall
Be crumbled into dust.

and visually it is evident in Easter-Wings.

The first stanza of a hymn inspired by the words and letters of Samuel Rutherford by Annie Ross Cousin, Last Words, or, The Sands of Time Are Sinking:

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of Heaven breaks,
The summer morn I've sighed for,
The fair sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory -- glory dwelleth,
In Immanuel's land.

An extract from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime.
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

A meditation by John Bunyan who spiritualized temporal things in A Book for Boys and Girls, later renamed, Divine Emblems, in The Works of John Bunyan, Vol. 3, p. 760:

Upon an Hour-Glass

This glass, when made, was, by the workman's skill,
The sum of sixty minutes to fulfil.
Time, more nor less, by it will out be spun,
But just an hour, and then the glass is run.
Man's life we will compare unto this glass,
The number of his months he cannot pass;
But when he has accomplished his day,
He, like a vapour, vanisheth away.

1 comment:

  1. It was your quotation from Anne Cousin's hymn that caught my eye this morning. (Today is the 186th anniversary of her birth.) but you've given readers a range of thoughtful material on the hourglass and the passing of our brief time on this earth. And it is brief. How foolish not to prepare for eternity! God bless.