(From the “Journal of the Blackburn Literary Club.”)

My lot is cast amid the lowly masses
Whose joys and sorrows I full oft have sung,
And through the glooms which cloud the working classes
Some feeble gleams of sunshine may have flung;
But whether this be fact or fancy, lo!
Once more my lowly harp I humbly string
To teach them what they each full well must know,
But oft forget, that time is on the wing!
Life is not made of days alone, but duty;
And they that would its greatness gauge aright
Must measure by its merit; moral beauty
Alone is lovely in the angels’ sight!
Then, as a stately barque, when onward bound,
Doth to the breeze of heaven her canvass fling,
Spread we our spirit-wings and spurn the ground,
Nay, scale the sky, for Time is on the wing!
Those master spirits who have won success
And gained the goal for which they strongly strove,
Great souls, who breathed their brotherhood to bless,
Or snatched the thunder from Immortal Jove,
And bloated empires, warrior, poet, sage,
Around whose names such fadeless glories cling.
Rendering refulgent history’s ample page
Like Time, were workers, ever on the wing!
When we contemplate death without a name –
To leave no light among the sons of men,
Are we not sorely tempted to exclaim, -
“Would God I could my time begin again?”
Then keen reflection cutteth like a knife;
And deep and deadly as the scorpion’s sting,
While Memory murmurs of a wasted life,
Smites Conscience, whispering, Time is on the wing!
True Happiness hath Virtue for her guide,
And walketh but in wisdom’s peaceful path;
Apart from hatred, envy, pomp, and pride,
Unscathed by sin, and hence unscar’d by scath;
She leans to neither high nor low degree,
But hold the beggar equal to the king!
With hopeful heart, and purpose pure, shall we
Not tread her track, while Time is on the wing.
That tide recedeth swiftly from the shore;
The sand falls briefly through the brittle glass;
Occasion gone, returneth nevermore;
The days are dead that deedless we let pass;
Each moment hath its opportunity;
Each hour its field for action still doth bring;
We wait, debate, and hesitate but we
Forget that time is ever on the wing!
The present, ever golden with the gay,
Are streaming rainbow bright, doth fade as fast;
The brave to-morrow, like the brief today,
Soon peeps within the portals of the Past;
But pace ye through her dim and shadowy bower,
And, seated, hear that ancient sibyl sing –
“Man knoweth not the day, nor yet the hour
When Death shall come, but Time is on the wing.”

Title:Time is on the Wing

Author:William Billington

Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:August 29th 1863

Keywords:moral, poverty, religion


This poem by the famous Blackburn poet William Billington is an example of his non-dialect standard English pieces. These are often instructional or moral in nature, and unlike the dialect works, do not assume a character or persona through which to speak. The poem refers to both the ‘working classes’ and the wealthy, and adheres to the familiar Victorian moral trope that they will all be judged in the end, and must ultimately suffer the same fate. It might be argued that this instruction is aimed at the working classes, and functions as a call for patience in the face of the hardships caused by the Cotton Famine. Billington wrote poems which were angrier and more disruptive, but these were almost always in the voice of hard-done-by working-class characters. – SR