The Past

By Henry Timrod 1828–1867 Henry Timrod
To-day’s most trivial act may hold the seed
   Of future fruitfulness, or future dearth;
Oh, cherish always every word and deed!
   The simplest record of thyself hath worth.

If thou hast ever slighted one old thought,
   Beware lest Grief enforce the truth at last;
The time must come wherein thou shalt be taught
   The value and the beauty of the Past.

Not merely as a warner and a guide,
   “A voice behind thee,” sounding to the strife;
But something never to be put aside,
   A part and parcel of thy present life.

Not as a distant and a darkened sky,
   Through which the stars peep, and the moonbeams glow;
But a surrounding atmosphere, whereby
   We live and breathe, sustained in pain and woe.

A shadowy land, where joy and sorrow kiss,
   Each still to each corrective and relief,
Where dim delights are brightened into bliss,
   And nothing wholly perishes but Grief.

Ah, me!—not dies—no more than spirit dies;
   But in a change like death is clothed with wings;
A serious angel, with entranced eyes,
   Looking to far-off and celestial things.

Source: The Collected Poems of Henry Timrod (1965)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Henry Timrod 1828–1867

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Time & Brevity, Living, Sorrow & Grieving

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza


Since Henry Timrod's output before the Civil War was limited to verse sufficient only for a single volume—published in December 1859—his literary reputation at the time was modest. The political activities surrounding the formation of a new nation and the impact of the war itself aroused Timrod's poetic imagination, however, and he quickly became widely known as the literary spokesman and eventually as the so-called poet . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Living, Sorrow & Grieving

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.