‘Hours’ by Hazel Hall is a three-stanza sapphic poem— meaning that it is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. “Sapphic” refers to the archaic Greek poet, Sappho, who was known for structuring her poems in the same way. The poem follows a consistent and structured rhyme scheme of abcb defe ghih. The poet has chosen to utilize this specific rhyme scheme in an effort to unify the poem without depending too heavily on rhyme.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she has lived through hours that have been “built like cities.” These periods of her life felt endless and mundane. They were as repetitive and unchanging as “grey house[s]” on grey houses. In amongst the city of hours, there were streets which trailed off into a “field of green.” There used to be a way out of the maze of buildings, but it has long since been forgotten.
The second stanza describes another period experienced by the speaker. This is one of longing and eternal disappointment. She describes these times as the “white crests” of mountains peeking through the clouds. They are “forbidden” to her as they are completely out of her reach.
In the final stanza Hall’s speaker turns to address time as a whole. She sees it as being a “tapestry of hours.” All of one’s positive and negative experiences, as well as those in the future and those which one will never see, are all blended together. There is no way to separate the good from the bad, it is all connected.
Analysis of Hours
I have known hours built like cities,
House on grey house, with streets between
That lead to straggling roads and trail off,
Forgotten in a field of green;
This poem, which is going to discuss the power of time, begins with an initial metaphor crafted by the poet to define what an hour is and can be. In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by stating that she has “known” or lived through hours which have been “built like cities.” This is a reader’s first clue as to what this stanza will have to say about the passage of time.
The word “cities” brings up images of complex, multilayered environments and pathways. When the speaker refers to the hours as being “built like cities,” she is speaking of how they feel to her. They are endless, intertwined, and messy.
The next line further describes these types of hours and what it is like to live them. They are made up of “House on grey house.” The progression of time at this point in the speaker’s life is busy but also mundane. The hours seem to go on forever, one after another with no change. The only thing that breaks up the “grey house[s]” are the “streets” which run between them. But even these, which might tempt one into thinking they are a way out, do not lead to anywhere new. They only bring on to “straggling roads.” There is no destination to be reached.
These roads which are unable to lead the speaker out from the mundane, endless hours she is living, “trail off” into a “Forgotten” field. This is a place that no one remembers or takes the time to explore. It is there, just out of reach.
Hours made like mountains lifting
White crests out of the fog and rain,
And woven of forbidden music—
Hours eternal in their pain.
In the second stanza, the speaker describes another way she has lived through a succession of hours. This way of living is as complicated as that described in the first stanza. She speaks of the “White crests” of mountains that “lift” out of the “fog and rain.” At first glance, this image is one of beauty. But as the lines progress the speaker describes this sight as one made or “woven” of “forbidden music.”
This is a complicated metaphor for what it means to live through a period of time. Within this image, the speaker is presenting a world that is completely out of her reach. She is forced to witness, but not participate in the beauty of the mountains. They are there before her, showing their “white crests,” but she cannot touch them.
In the final two lines of this quatrain, the speaker describes how the mountains are forbidden and “eternal in their pain.” She knows there is no possible way for her to reach them, no matter what she does or how long she lives.
Life is a tapestry of hours
Forever mellowing in tone,
Where all things blend, even the longing
For hours I have never known.
In the final four lines the two experiences which were previously detailed, as well as all those which are possible, are combined. The speaker describes a “tapestry of hours” which makes up the world in which she lives. This tapestry is a combination of all the days she might live as well as those she never will. All in all, the speaker states that the “tapestry” is always “mellowing in tone.” This is most likely a reference to the greater progression of time and how one’s days are always growing shorter. Additionally, as one grows older the passionate hours of youth drain away and one is left with days that are calmer and more peaceful.
She states that “all things” are blended together in the tapestry “even the longing” she has for hours she has “never known.” It represents possibility, both positive and negative.
The final stanza, although somewhat dark, can be read as an optimistic view of life and what it means to live in a world controlled by time. This is due to the fact that the structure of the tapestry negates time entirely— by its sheer interconnectedness. There is no beginning middle or end, just a “blen[ed]” life, some parts of which will be joyful and some parts miserable.