Time's Paces

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The poem as it appears in the book Hymns and Other Stray Verses (1901) Time's Paces.jpg
The poem as it appears in the book Hymns and Other Stray Verses (1901)

Time's Paces is a poem about the apparent speeding up of time as one gets older. It was written by Henry Twells (1823–1900) and published in his book Hymns and Other Stray Verses (1901). The poem was popularised by Guy Pentreath (1902–1985) in an amended version. Pentreath saw the poem Time's Paces attached to a clock case in the north transept of Chester Cathedral where it is to be seen today. [1] Recently the poem was even set to music. [2] Pentreath quoted his version of the poem in his last sermon at Wrekin College, Shropshire where he was headmaster till 1952. [3] His version then entered the public domain. Perhaps he wrote the poem down from memory and reconstructed it in the process. He may not have consciously intended to improve on Twells' version.

The last four lines of Pentreath's version were missed out in Whitrow's quotation in his book, The Natural Philosophy of Time and in some quotations in other books. The first sentence also begins with "For" as in "For when I was a babe . . ." This was added by Whitrow who may have received the poem orally or informally from Pentreath since he gives no reference source for the poem in his otherwise well referenced book. [4]

The two versions are shown here:

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  1. See this ChesterTourist.com website: http://www.chestertourist.com/cathedral.htm Retrieved 2012.02.22. Photographs of the clock and the poem are to be found by scrolling down this large collection of photographs.
  2. See this 'Chester on the web' site about the restoration of the clock and the use of the song to mark its re-dedication. "Chester Cathedral clock restored'". Archived from the original on 25 January 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2012.Retrieved 2012-02-22.
  3. Information supplied by e-mail by the Assistant Archivist at Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire where Pentreath was headmaster from 1952 to 1959.
  4. Cf. G.J. Whitrow, The Natural Philosophy of Time, Oxford: the Clarendon Press, 1st ed. 1961, 2nd ed. 1980, Ch. 2, p.63, and also in his later book: The Nature of Time, London: Penguin, 1975, p. 39. Whitrow's shortened version also appears in The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, Oxford: OUP, 1988, p. 641, but it is wrongly attributed to Henry Twells.
  5. Henry Twells, Hymns and Other Stray Verses, London: Wells Gardner & Co., 1901, p. 34.
  6. The full version was quoted by Sir Peter Gadsden in his address at "The Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Guy Pentreath" held in Westminster Abbey on 20 January 1986. Information based on a copy of Gadsden's Address supplied by the Assistant Archivist at Cheltenham College.