Tonight on new year’s eve, as we await midnight, here’s a final Puritan grave for 2014. The stone was cut over two hundred and sixty years ago, yet it remains crisp. Appropriately for the new year’s count-down, it bears a clock:
This design is almost unique. Although many gravestones feature hour-glasses, I’ve seen just two clocks. The first (above) is in my childhood hometown of Woodstock, Connecticut. The second (below) is nearly an exact copy, in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Both date to the 1750s.
The clocks feature deep-chiseled Roman numerals and hands set exactly at six-o’clock. I wonder why the engraver selected this hour. Six o’clock gives attractive symmetry, yet death might more appropriately be the midnight of life. Crossed bones and the gravedigger’s shovel and pick-axe sit beside, like mantelpiece curios.
“O Time, the fatal wrack of mortal things,” lamented the Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet. And in 1719, the English composer Isaac Watts wrote the famous hymn, Oh God Our Help in Ages Past: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream / Bears all its sons away / They fly, forgotten, as a dream / Dies at the opening day.”
Perhaps these clocks reflect the influence of such lines. Yet neither sentiment is appropriate to a new year’s celebration. Rather than dwell on mortality, let these clocks advise us to use time well in the year ahead, and remind us that some of our work, like this engraver’s, may endure long after our own hour of midnight.
And now, a glass of port to warm this New England winter and welcome another year!
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