The Hour is Lost – John Shaw Neilson – Comments

The Hour is Lost

The hour is lost. Was ever hour so sweet?
Fruitful of blessing, friends and honeyed words —
The sunlight in our faces — at our feet
The world bright, beautiful, its flocks and herds,
Foliage of forests, choruses of birds . .
O happy time, why did we stand downcast?
We should have leapt for love: but now, the hour is past.

The hour is lost. Scarce had we time to mark
The glory of the green, the sky’s soft blue;
It came as silently as comes the dark,
Our hearts burned hot within us ere we knew . .
Then suddenly we said, Can it be true
This golden time was ours? — and now downcast
We stand dumb and amazed. Alas! the hour is past.

John Shaw Neilson (1872 -1942)

This sonnet is broken into two distinct seven line stanzas with rhyming scheme ‘ababbcc’.

If we think of life as condensed into an hour then we realize the brevity of our existence.

S1 … When we look back on life as the hour completes then according to the first stanza we may regret not making the most of our time. Life is beautiful, the world is beautiful, friends have been wonderful with honeyed words, nature has been bright before our eyes – did we not see that! We should have leapt for love!

S2 … Time has gone so quickly and our sight has been blinkered by our downcast attitude. We stand dumb and amazed that we did not appreciate the beauty of life to the full. Perhaps we are experiencing the beauty of life for the first time, and then a sad lament that it is late in life and ‘our hour’ could have had more meaning.

So whether you have a few minutes or half an hour or more take time to rejoice and live life to the full in appreciation of your own unique personal experience. Colour the gravity of those bleak news headlines with optimistic eyes seeing beyond the dark shadows to the bright amazing world that abounds around us!

Here are the links to two well know carpe diem (seize the day) poems –

From A. E. Housman …

And from Andrew Marvell …

The Orange Tree – John Shaw Neilsen – Analysis

The Orange Tree

The young girl stood beside me. I
Saw not what her young eyes could see:
A light, she said, not of the sky
Lives somewhere in the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, of east or west?
The heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
Only the edges of his joy?

Was he, I said, born to the blue
In a mad escapade of Spring
Ere he could make a fond adieu
To his love in the blossoming?

Listen! the young girl said. There calls
No voice, no music beats on me;
But it is almost sound: it falls
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Does he, I said, so fear the Spring
Ere the white sap too far can climb?
See in the full gold evening
All happenings of the olden time?

Is he so goaded by the green?
Does the compulsion of the dew
Make him unknowable but keen
Asking with beauty of the blue?

Listen! the young girl said. For all
Your hapless talk you fail to see
There is a light, a step, a call,
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, a waste of love
Imperishably old in pain,
Moving as an affrighted dove
Under the sunlight or the rain?

Is it a fluttering heart that gave
Too willingly and was reviled?
Is it the stammering at a grave,
The last word of a little child?

Silence! the young girl said. Oh why,
Why will you talk to weary me?
Plague me no longer now, for I
Am listening like the Orange Tree.

John Shaw Neilson 1919

S1 … The young girl starts a conversation with a bystander. She sees (or senses) a ‘light’ in the Orange Tree; but not so the bystander (or the poet).

S2-3 … The bystander or poet then makes enquiry on the nature of the ‘light’ expressing his thoughts on that nature in poetic terms. All his energy is on his creative thoughts. He alludes to a boy and to love.

S4 … The young girl takes no notice of his poetic rapture instructing him to ‘listen’. It is almost like a sound in the Orange Tree.

S5-6 … The bystander goes into more poetic fantasy on the possible nature of the ‘light’. Again he equates his thoughts to that of a boy.

S7 … The young girl is now irritated by the hapless talk from the bystander. She instructs him emphatically to listen!

S8-9 … Unfortunately the bystander poet takes no notice and continues his poetic expression trying to pry out the nature of her experience in his creative words rather than try to experience the ‘light’ for himself.

S10 … The young girl has had enough of his hapless weary talk. The communication with the bystander poet has ended. She is now at one with the Orange Tree sharing totally with the Tree; and perhaps at one with the natural environment. And the poet is left none the wiser.

This is one of the most known poems of John Shaw Neilsen and perhaps one of his most important poems. Every poet, writer and especially those steeped in analysis should read these words. Analysing experience detracts from the experiencing and may, as in the case above, detract from the experience of another.

And perhaps The Orange Tree can be equated to Life and ‘light’ to beauty. Life must be experienced yourself! You must listen to understand; to be in tune with life rather than letting your own fancies distract.

I hope that my analysis has not stopped enjoyment of the poem!