Clock Striking

Charles Lamb


Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb was an English poet and essayist.

He is best remembered for his co-authorship of Tales from Shakespeare along with his sister, Mary Lamb.

‘Clock Striking’ by Charles Lamb is a two stanza poem that is made up of sets of six lines or sestets. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABCCB, changing end sounds in the second stanza. This regular pattern, in combination with the fairly uniform lines and the most simple syntax makes this piece easy and pleasurable to read. 

A reader should also take note of the various turns in the text. For example, in the middle of the first stanza, the speaker changes, and suddenly the poem is a commentary on graciousness. Between the first and second stanza, there is another turn. The friend spends the lines speaking about someone else, a girl who adequately appreciated something the speaker initially didn’t. 

Clock Striking by Charles Lamb


Summary of Clock Striking

Clock Striking’ by Charles Lamb is a short poem in which one friend encourages another to show appropriate appreciation in life.

The poem begins with the speaker telling the listener about a question. His friend wanted to know if he heard the clock striking. The speaker isn’t sure if he did or not, and says so.

In the next three lines, the friend tries to teach the speaker a lesson about gratitude. We don’t know what it is like to not have something we do have, or, to want something that has always existed for us.

In the second stanza of ‘Clock Striking,” and the friend continues to speak. The friend provides the speaker and listener with a great example of sufficient gratitude for life’s blessings. He recalls watching a deaf girl hear a church bell and the wonder and excitement she felt. It went to her heart and he thinks the speaker, and the whole of the human race, should be more like her.


Poetic Techniques 

Alliteration and enjambment are two of the most common techniques in poetry, and are seen throughout ‘Clock Striking’. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “church-clock” in the first line and sixth line of the first stanza and “sound,” “scarce,” “showed” and “sound” in the second stanza. 

Enjambment occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point.  It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There is a great example of this in action between lines four and five of the first stanza. A reader has to move to the fifth line to find out what he “always possess”. The same can be said about lines three and four of the second stanza. It is unclear how exactly the girl felt, aside from surprised, until the fourth line. 


Analysis of Clock Striking 

Stanza One 

Lines 1-3

Did I hear the church-clock a few minutes ago,

I was asked, and I answered, I hardly did know,

But I thought that I heard it strike three.

In the first lines of ‘Clock Striking’, the speaker begins by relaying a question he was asked. He describes being asked if he heard “the church-clock a few minutes ago”. This is a reference to the striking of the bell in the church tower. It is usually used to signal the time, a marriage or a birth. The second line contains three “I” statements. The speaker tells the listener that he was asked this question, that he answered the question, and that the answer was that he hardly “did know” if the clock sounded. He thinks it might’ve, but he isn’t sure. Although this statement seems innocuous, it is the hinge on which the entire poem turns.


Lines 4-6

Said my friend then, ‘The blessings we always possess

We know not the want of, and prize them the less;

The church-clock was no new sound to thee.

The speaker, still replying to his friend, says that he thinks he might’ve heard it strike three. In the next three lines, the friend tries to teach the speaker a lesson about gratitude. The friend says to the speaker that often times, “we,” meaning all of the human race, possess things that we know not the want of. This complicated turn of phrase can be re-stated as we have things and take it an advantage of their existence. We don’t know what it’s like to not have something we do have, or, to want something that has always existed for us. 

Because this is the case, the friend adds that “we” prize these things less. To prove this fact to the speaker the friend reminds him that he is guilty of this way of being in the word too. The “church clock was no new sound to thee”. Through this phrase, the friend is trying to make the speaker remember how lucky he is to have the things he does have, as well as make him feel a little bit guilty for not appreciating them adequately.


Stanza Two 

‘A young woman, afflicted with deafness a year,

By that sound you scarce heard, first perceived she could hear;

I was near her, and saw the girl start

With such exquisite wonder, such feelings of pride,

A happiness almost to terror allied,

She showed the sound went to her heart.’ 

In the second stanza of ‘Clock Striking,” and the friend continues to speak. These lines give an example that relates directly to the first stanza. Initially, the clock as an example of taking advantage of one’s blessings is a strange one. But, the friend provides the speaker and listener with a great example of why the clock striking is important too. He thinks back to a young woman he saw. The girl was deaf. In the second line, he recalls seeing her hear the sound of the clock strike. It was the sound “you,” meaning the speaker, “scarce heard”. 

In contrast to the speaker, the young girl was incredibly excited to hear this sound. She felt prideful, and “exquisite wonder” over this occurrence. Hearing the clock was to the young girl a sublime experience. It was happiness mixed with terror, and it clearly went “to her heart”.This series of events clearly impacted the friend as well. One can assume that they will impact the speaker in the same way.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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