“Alas, Time stays, — we go!”


A friend of mine is teaching a summer school class about the city of Chicago and is out of town for a couple of days, so I am subbing for her. The class is small and the students are 6th and 7th graders. Yesterday we took a walking tour of Hyde Park visiting lots of different buildings, public sculptures, and historical sites. Today we visited a last site that we didn’t have time for yesterday— Lorado Taft’s Fountain of Time.  It’s called a fountain but it’s really a reflecting pool between a large anthropomorphized “Time” and a parade of figures moving from right to left. Though it took us a while to get there — there was a bunny rabbit munching grass, a caterpillar in the middle of the sidewalk, and a butterfly that kept landing on everyone, all which required everyone’s undivided attention—- once we arrived the kids were totally engaged, climbing atop the sculpture itself becoming part of the pageant passing in front of Time.

This large monumental sculpture at the west end of the Midway on the University of Chicago campus was inspired by a poem that Lorado Taft (1860-1936) read:

The Paradox Of Time

Time goes, you say? Ah no!
Alas, Time stays, we go;
Or else, were this not so,
What need to chain the hours,
For Youth were always ours?
Time goes, you say?-ah no!

Ours is the eyes’ deceit
Of men whose flying feet
Lead through some landscape low;
We pass, and think we see
The earth’s fixed surface flee:-
Alas, Time stays,-we go!

Once in the days of old,
Your locks were curling gold,
And mine had shamed the crow.
Now, in the self-same stage,
We’ve reached the silver age;
Time goes, you say?-ah no!

Once, when my voice was strong,
I filled the woods with song
To praise your ‘rose’ and ‘snow’;
My bird, that sang, is dead;
Where are your roses fled?
Alas, Time stays,-we go!

See, in what traversed ways,
What backward Fate delays
The hopes we used to know;
Where are our old desires?-
Ah, where those vanished fires?
Time goes, you say?-ah no!

How far, how far, O Sweet,
The past behind our feet
Lies in the even-glow!
Now, on the forward way,
Let us fold hands, and pray;
Alas, Time stays,-we go!

—Henry Austin Dobson (1840-1921)

Lorado Taft explained,

A vagrant line or two of Austin Dobson’s once made a great impression on me –

Time goes, you say?  Ah, no

Alas time stays; we go.

The words brought before me a picture which speedily transformed fancy into a colossal work of sculpture.  I saw the mighty crag-like figure of time . . . leaning on his staff, his chin upon his hand, and watching with cynical, inscrutable gaze the endless march of humanity – a majestic relief of marble I saw it, swinging in a wide circle around the form of the lone sentinel and made up of the shapes of hurrying men and women and children in endless procession, ever impelled by the winds of destiny in the inexorable IMG_1491_2lock-step of the ages.  Theirs the fateful forward movement which has not ceased since time began.  But in that crowded concourse, how few detach themselves from the greyness of the dusky caravan!  How few there are who even lift their heads!  Here an over-taxed body falls – and a place is vacant for a moment; there a strong man turns to the silent, shrouded reviewer and with lifted arms utters the cry of the old-time gladiators:  “Hail Caesar, we who go to our death salute thee” – and presses forward.  And once in a while an illuminated mind catches some glimpse of the eternal sequence, or his own relation to the past, to the present and to the future. Such a one thinks with reverence and gratitude of those around him, not living for himself alone, and he yearns to send a message on down the shadowy years to those who are to follow. Such souls bind together the generations of men: they give solidity to the race. Such a man is the true citizen. (Lorado Taft’s “Fountain of Time Done in Concrete by John J. Earley: A Triumph in Application of Concrete to the Uses of Art.  Concrete, Vol. 21.  December, 1922.)

And even this sculpture, as it is made out of concrete (there wasn’t enough money for a more permanent material), is subject to the ravages of time including Chicago’s freezing and thawing. This required major restoration a couple of years ago. I guess, “time stays, we go,” but if you are a sculpture there are things that can be done to help you stay a bit longer.

On the way back to school the students were asking me how we were going to spend the rest of the class. Would they be writing? Was there going to be a movie? Would there be time to play outside? Someone mentioned that summer school was already halfway over as of today. Another student mentioned she had to leave class early today. I’m sure the irony of their questions and comments was lost on them. I told them to be patient and enjoy the leisurely, unhurried stroll, enhanced by the smell of freshly mowed grass and a female cardinal flitting in the branches of a small crabapple.

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