Time Is Too Slow for Those Who Wait; Too Swift for Those Who Fear

William Shakespeare? Henry van Dyke? Alice Morse Earle? Katrina Trask? H. L. Mencken? Lady Jane Fellowes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following lines have been credited to the famous English playwright and poet William Shakespeare:

Time is very slow for those who wait
Very fast for those who are scared
Very long for those who lament
Very short for those who celebrate
But for those who love, time is eternal.

I haven’t been able to find a citation and I am skeptical of this attribution. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the ascription to William Shakespeare. QI conjectures these lines were derived from a sundial inscription crafted by the U.S. author and clergyman Henry van Dyke. Two separate poems by van Dyke appeared on the sundial, and both were recorded in a 1901 book by historian Alice Morse Earle titled “Old-Time Gardens Newly Set Forth”. Earle encountered the sundial in a rose garden at the Yaddo estate of Spencer and Katrina Trask in Saratoga Springs, New York. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The engraved metal dial face bears two exquisite verses — the gift of one poet to another — of Dr. Henry Van Dyke to the garden’s mistress, Katrina Trask. These dial mottoes are unusual, and perfect examples of that genius which with a few words can shape a lasting gem of our English tongue. At the edge of the dial face is this motto:

“Hours fly,
Flowers die,
New Days,
New Ways,
Pass by;
Love stays.”

At the base of the gnomon is the second motto:—

Time is
Too Slow for those who Wait,
Too Swift for those who Fear,
Too Long for those who Grieve,
Too Short for those who Rejoice;
But for those who Love,
Time is Eternity.

The lines under examination are similar to the lines immediately above. The three key words “scared”, “lament”, and “celebrate” semantically match the words “fear”, “grieve”, and “rejoice”. QI hypothesizes that van Dyke’s lines were rephrased to yield the lines attributed to Shakespeare. This rephrasing may have occurred because of a faulty memory. Alternatively, the modified statements may have been constructed deliberately with uncertain motivation.

The image at the top of this webpage shows the sundial. The words of the first poem are visible in the outermost ring around the sundial. The second poem appears on the left of the dial. The text is oriented sideways. Below is a picture of the second verse with proper orientation. The resolution is low, but the beginning word “Time” and ending word “Eternity” are clear.

A few years later van Dyke published a slightly different version of this poem about time. He omitted the word “Eternity” and changed the last line to say “Time is not”. See the 1904 citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Time Is Too Slow for Those Who Wait; Too Swift for Those Who Fear

Notes:

  1. 1901, Old-Time Gardens Newly Set Forth by Alice Morse Earle, Large Paper Edition: Number 139 of 350, Quote Page 88, The Macmillan Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link