A sundial’s lament

The end of this piece embodies a two-liner by Hilaire Belloc, the only poem I can remember in full from my schooldays. Horsham’s Heritage Sundial, which is set up for British Summer Time, tries to argue for wider acceptance but, like Belloc’s, has to come to terms with market realities.

I’m a solar-powered timepiece that you do not have to wind.
I’m as quiet as the grave, because I’ve got no gears to grind.
I don’t wear out; I don’t slow down; my rhythm never slips,
So I do not need adjustment when you hear the Greenwich pips.
You would think all these advantages, and others I could mention,
Would leave the world amazed at such a marvellous invention.

The trouble is, although I’m astronomically right,
I’m not much good to people in the middle of the night;
Not portable, not digital, not radio-controlled;
No buttons, knobs or winder shafts. I’m from a different mould
That’s schooled in more traditional and self-effacing ways –
The strong and silent type that isn’t popular these days.

They tried to make me useful: all around my rim they cast,
In thirty scenes of solid bronze, the tale of Horsham’s past.
There’s horses, sheep, iguanodon, a dragon, fairies, knights,
A monastery, a cricket match and other local sights.
The Queen herself unveiled me, but I wonder if she thought,
“How backward! One would ditch this clock and get the modern sort”.

The clamour of the modern world is urgent and incessant;
Overtaken by technology, I’m feeling obsolescent.
I can’t adapt to GMT; I’m useless doing seconds;
I’m just a quaint anachronism, everybody reckons.
In short, I am a sundial, and I make a hopeless botch
Of what most folk will say is done far better by a watch.

[Photo: The Horsham Society]
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