Time Is

Henry van Dyke

‘Time Is’ is one of the best Henry van Dyke poems, published in 1904. This poem goes beyond the scientific definition of time and explores the subjectivity of time.


Henry van Dyke

Henry van Dyke was an American author. He also worked as a diplomat and educator.

He was a professor of English literature for many years at Princeton.

‘Time Is’ is a short poem that presents an ever-changing definition of time. Time is not constant. It varies according to the mental state of a person. Only one can surpass the limitation of time through love. However, the poet captures how time moves, through a set of contrasts. These ideas make it clear to the readers that time depends on how one treats it. And the treatment of time depends on the thoughts a person is preoccupied with.

Time Is by Henry van Dyke


Summary of Time Is

‘Time Is’ by Henry van Dyke explores the definition of time that depends on a person’s emotional state. Through love, one can surpass the dominion of time.

The poem begins with an opposition of ideas. At first, Dyke says time is too slow for those who wait. In contrast, time is too swift for those who fear it. Those who are grievous, feel the time is too long for them. Whereas, those who are rejoicing in the ripples of life, feel the time is too short on earth. But those who love, don’t preoccupy their minds with such thoughts of time. Love is eternal. Hence, lovers don’t care much about time. And time has no control over them.



This a short poem on the definition of time. It consists of only seven lines. There is a single full stop in the overall poem and it appears in the last line. So, the last line sounds like a statement that none can question. Whereas, the previous lines have commas at the end. It’s a reference to the transience of time. It also means that time waits for none. For those who are in the grip of weaker emotions than love, time quickly passes away for them. Apart from that, there isn’t any specific rhyme scheme in this poem. The poem is in free verse. Moreover, there is a trochaic foot in the first line. The following five lines are in iambic trimeter. And the last line is in iambic dimeter and the line is acephalous.


Literary Devices

The most important literary device of the poem is personification. In the poem, ‘Time Is’ the poet personifies time and compares it with a human being. The overall poem sounds like an epigram. Whereas, the last two lines contain a paradox. However, in the phrases starting with “too”, the poet uses hyperbole for the sake of emphasis, not for mere exaggeration. In the third line, “Fear” is a metaphor for death. Moreover, the poet also uses metonymy in the poem. As an example, the verb “Wait” is an effect. Here, the poet refers to the cause of one’s waiting. Likewise, by using “Rejoice”, Dyke refers to the reason for one’s enjoyment. However, in the last line, the poet uses anticipation. It is up to the readers how they interpret this line.


Analysis of Time Is

Lines 1–3

Time Is

Too Slow for those who Wait,

Too Swift for those who Fear,

Dyke’s poem ‘Time Is’ begins with the title. Thereafter using enjambment the poet connects the first line with the rest of the lines. In the second and third lines, there is a contrast of ideas. Firstly, the poet says when time becomes slow and when it moves swiftly. For those who are always waiting for something, time moves sluggishly for them. It can be any kind of waiting. If a person forgets the present moment and invests his determination only in the future, he or she will ever be trapped in waiting. Even in the future, one can’t fulfill the dream or desire, if he or she wastes time only thinking about the illusory future.

For those who are in fear of death, time moves swiftly away from them. Such overt thinking on death makes one weaker day by day. One day they discover that death has approached too early. In reality, they moved too quickly towards it for their preoccupation with death. It can also be any kind of fear. But, in each case, one thinks the time is moving swiftly for him or her.


Lines 4–5

Too Long for those who Grieve,

Too Short for those who Rejoice;

In these two lines, the poet presents another set of contrast. Here, he talks about when time seems too long and when it appears as too short. Some people always grieve over their past. Past failures, unfortunate episodes, and craving for what they don’t have are the sole reasons for their sadness. According to the poet, those who always spent their time lamenting for their misfortunes, think that life is too long for them. The moments of sadness don’t pass away for them and keep them busy in such meaningless thoughts.

Whereas, for those who know how to live life to the fullest, time always haunts them. They feel many things are yet to be discovered. But, for the shortage of time, they can not enjoy such pleasures available on earth. Hence, time flies away for those who enjoy their life. It is interesting to note here that time is just an imagination of the mind. It doesn’t have a specific speed. The meaning of time, for this reason, varies from person to person.


Lines 6–7

But for those who Love,

Time is not.

In the last two lines of the poem, Dyke illustrates the most important idea. It is love that is more powerful than time. Those who love, know it better. For them, time is just a concept. It touches those who are controlled by the base emotions. Love is an emotion that has a power of its own. Using this power of love, lovers can easily jump over the bounds of time. According to the poet, time is not too short or too long for lovers. Rather time becomes their friend. If one truly loves someone, the person doesn’t think much about how much he or she has. They know how to make the most of the time left with them.


Historical Context

‘Time Is’, one of the best poems by Dyke, first appeared in “Music and Other Poems” in 1904. The poem is also known by the name, ‘For Katrina’s Sundial’. Dyke composed this poem as an inscription on a sundial. The sundial was set in the garden of an estate owned by his friends Spencer and Katrina Trask. The second edition of the poem was read at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. However, in some versions of the poem, there is “Eternity” in place of “not” in the last line, “Time is not.” This poem also inspired some songs composed on the theme of time.


Similar Poetry

Here is a list of a few poems that similarly talk about time like Dyke’s poem, ‘Time Is’.

You can read about 10 of the Best Poems about Time here.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

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