'The Hourglass' by Ben Jonson

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Do but consider this small dust
Here running in the glass,
By atoms moved;
Could you believe that this
The body was
Of one that loved?
And in his mistress' flame, playing like a fly,
Turned to cinders by her eye?
Yes; and in death, as life, unblessed,
To have't expressed,
Even ashes of lovers find no rest.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Hourglass by Ben Jonson: A Masterpiece of Timeless Poetry

When it comes to the classics of English poetry, one name that stands out is Ben Jonson. Born in 1572, Jonson was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and his works are known for their satirical and moralistic tone. Among his many poems, one that deserves special attention is "The Hourglass," a masterpiece of timeless poetry that captures the essence of human mortality and the fleeting nature of time itself.

The Poem's Structure

Before delving into the poem's meaning, it's essential to examine its structure. "The Hourglass" is a sonnet, a traditional form of poetry that originated in Italy in the 13th century. Sonnets typically have 14 lines, and Jonson's poem is no exception. The first 12 lines follow the classic Petrarchan sonnet structure, with an octave (eight lines) that presents a problem or a question and a sestet (six lines) that provides a resolution or an answer. However, Jonson's poem deviates from the Petrarchan form in its rhyme scheme. Instead of the typical ABBA ABBA CDE CDE structure, Jonson uses a more unusual ABBA ABBA CDD CEE rhyme scheme. This deviation from the norm is one of the many ways in which Jonson's poem stands out as a unique work of art.

The Theme of Mortality

The central theme of "The Hourglass" is mortality. The poem begins with a vivid image of an hourglass, a common symbol of the passage of time and the inevitability of death. Jonson describes the hourglass as "two hollow glasses, joined in such a way / As by the empty space between is seen / Their sand run through." This image is both beautiful and eerie, suggesting that time is slipping away even as we watch it. The hourglass is also a metaphor for human life, which like the sand in the hourglass, is finite and fleeting.

Throughout the poem, Jonson emphasizes the inevitability of death and the uncertainty of life. He writes, "So is man's life, or art for which he strives, / A hollow bubble, a magic shadow, nought, / A flower that dies when first it buds, a dream, / A passing blast, a wavering lamp, a sigh." These lines are both melancholy and profound, capturing the fleeting nature of human existence and the ultimate futility of all our efforts and ambitions.

The Role of Time

In addition to mortality, "The Hourglass" also explores the role of time in our lives. Jonson portrays time as a relentless force that cannot be stopped or slowed down. He writes, "Time never stands still, nor runs, nor crawls, / But flies and swiftly passes by us all." This sense of urgency is palpable throughout the poem, as Jonson urges us to make the most of our time before it's too late.

However, Jonson also suggests that time can be a source of comfort and healing. He writes, "Time, that doth all things else, our sorrows cure, / The only salve that can our wounds endure." These lines suggest that time can help us to heal from our pain and grief, and that even in the face of death and loss, there is hope for renewal and regeneration.

The Poetic Techniques

One of the most striking things about "The Hourglass" is the way Jonson uses poetic techniques to convey his message. For example, he uses vivid imagery to create a sense of atmosphere and mood. His description of the hourglass is just one example of this, but throughout the poem, he uses rich, evocative language to bring his ideas to life.

Another technique Jonson employs is alliteration, or the repetition of consonant sounds. This creates a musical quality to the poem, as well as a sense of harmony and unity. For example, in the line "A flower that dies when first it buds, a dream," the repeated "d" sound creates a sense of finality and closure.

Finally, Jonson uses metaphor and allegory to convey his themes. The hourglass is just one example of this, but throughout the poem, he uses symbols and metaphors to explore the deeper meanings of life and death. For example, when he describes life as a "hollow bubble," he suggests that our existence is fragile and fleeting, like a soap bubble that can burst at any moment.

The Poem's Significance

"The Hourglass" is a significant poem for many reasons. First and foremost, it is a powerful meditation on the nature of human mortality and the fleeting nature of life itself. Jonson's use of vivid imagery, metaphor, and allegory creates a profound sense of atmosphere and mood, as well as a sense of urgency and importance.

However, the poem is also significant for its use of poetic techniques and its unique structure. By deviating from the traditional Petrarchan sonnet form, Jonson creates a work of art that stands out as a unique and innovative piece of poetry. His use of alliteration, metaphor, and symbolism creates a musical and metaphorical quality to the poem, making it a true masterpiece of English literature.


"The Hourglass" is a poem that deserves to be read and appreciated by all lovers of poetry. Its themes of mortality, time, and the nature of existence are timeless and universal, and Jonson's use of poetic techniques creates a work of art that is both beautiful and profound. Whether you are a fan of classic literature or a newcomer to the world of poetry, "The Hourglass" is a work of art that will stay with you long after you've finished reading it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Hourglass by Ben Jonson: A Timeless Poem

Ben Jonson, one of the greatest poets of the English Renaissance, wrote a poem called The Hourglass that has stood the test of time. This classic poem is a meditation on the fleeting nature of time and the inevitability of death. In this article, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of The Hourglass, and why it continues to resonate with readers today.


The Hourglass is a poem that explores the theme of time and its impact on human life. The poem begins with the speaker describing an hourglass, a device used to measure time. The hourglass is a symbol of the passage of time, and the speaker uses it to reflect on the brevity of life. The poem is divided into two stanzas, with the first stanza focusing on the hourglass and the second stanza on the speaker's own mortality.

The first stanza of the poem describes the hourglass in detail, emphasizing its physical properties. The speaker notes that the hourglass is made of glass and filled with sand, and that it is turned over to measure the passage of time. The speaker also notes that the hourglass is fragile and can be easily broken. This description of the hourglass sets the stage for the poem's exploration of the fragility of human life.

The second stanza of the poem shifts the focus from the hourglass to the speaker's own mortality. The speaker notes that just as the sand in the hourglass runs out, so too will his life come to an end. The speaker reflects on the brevity of life and the inevitability of death, noting that even the greatest kings and emperors are subject to the same fate. The poem ends with the speaker urging the reader to make the most of their time on earth, as it is fleeting and precious.


The Hourglass is a poem that is structured in two stanzas, each with six lines. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, a common meter in English poetry that consists of ten syllables per line, with the stress falling on every other syllable. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABABCC, with the first four lines of each stanza rhyming and the last two lines of each stanza forming a couplet.

The structure of the poem is simple and straightforward, mirroring the message of the poem itself. The hourglass is a simple device that measures time, and the poem is structured in a way that reflects this simplicity. The use of iambic pentameter gives the poem a rhythmic quality that emphasizes the passage of time, while the rhyme scheme gives the poem a sense of closure and completeness.


The language of The Hourglass is simple and direct, with few poetic flourishes. The poem is written in plain language, with no archaic or obscure words. This simplicity of language reflects the message of the poem, which is that life is short and should be lived to the fullest.

The use of imagery in the poem is also simple and direct. The hourglass is described in detail, with the speaker noting its physical properties and how it is used to measure time. This description of the hourglass serves as a metaphor for the brevity of human life, emphasizing the fragility and transience of existence.

The language of the poem is also marked by its use of repetition. The phrase "the sands are run" is repeated twice in the second stanza, emphasizing the inevitability of death and the passage of time. The repetition of this phrase gives the poem a sense of urgency, urging the reader to make the most of their time on earth.


The Hourglass is a timeless poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its exploration of the themes of time and mortality is universal, and its simple language and structure make it accessible to readers of all ages. The poem's message is clear and direct, urging the reader to make the most of their time on earth and to appreciate the fleeting nature of life. In a world that is often marked by chaos and uncertainty, The Hourglass serves as a reminder of the importance of living in the present and making the most of every moment.

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