May 07, 2021 5 min read

Our favourite clock quotes of all time are drawn from a wide variety of individuals from all walks of life. Many see clocks as relentless observers and registers of the march of time and the transience of all things. On the surface this may seem depressing, making all achievements temporary and futile. However, it is often used to emphasise the beauty of things precisely because they won’t last. Because life is fleeting, we should celebrate every moment, good and bad. Nor is humour absent, it is human nature to laugh at what we cannot control, after all.  

Clocks in Literature

Clocks often appear in literary quotes as examples of reliability, constantly keeping time regardless of surrounding events. This is not always seen as a good thing, demonstrating how the unpredictable and irrational side of human nature is sometimes preferable. Interestingly, Emily Bronte only mentions time measured in half hour increments as clocks of the time rarely, if ever, had minute hands.

Quiet minds can’t be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock in a thunderstorm. Robert Louis Stevenson

The clock strikes off the hollow half-hours of all the life that is left to you, one by one. Emily Bronte

Clock will go as they are set, but man, irregular man is never constant, never certain. Thomas Otway

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone. Silence the pianos and with muffled drum, bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. W H Auden

The hours of folly are measured by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure. William Blake

We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery. H G Wells

By putting forward the hands of the clock you shall not advance the hour. Victor Hugo

The Inevitable March of Time

The quotes below all use clocks as a reminder of the fleeting time we all experience and the finite nature of life. Rather than showing this in a negative light, they emphasise the need to treasure our allotted time and use it well.

Night after night goes by; and clocks still chime and stars are changing patterns in the dark.  Christopher Morley

The present only is your own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in tomorrow, for the clock may then be still.  A. Daniel Goldsmith

Clocks were invented to warn us. Tick (time is passing). Tock (time has passed). Kamand Kojouri

We can neither put back the clock nor slow down our forward speed, and as we are already flying pilotless, on instrument controls, it is even too late to ask where we are going. Igor Stravinsky

Every click of the cosmic clock brings us closer to the process for which the planet called us into existence.  Terence McKenna

Alarm Clocks

Despite their undisputed usefulness, alarm clocks come in for more than their fair share of abuse in many quotes. In most cases though, this is not done without humour or a grudging acceptance of their place in our lives.

The best part of the day is over when the alarm clock goes off.  A Daniel Goldsmith

Of all daylight saving plans, the best by far is an alarm clock. Evan Esar

Work is a necessity for man. Man invented the alarm clock. Pablo Picasso

The trouble with an alarm clock is that what seems sensible when you set it seems absurd when it goes off.  Rex Stout

Clock Humour

The need to run our lives to schedules dictated by clocks naturally causes some resentment. However, the usual response to events beyond our control is to joke and make light of them. These quotes illustrate this perfectly.

In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. – Graham Greene

Clock watchers never seem to be having a good time.  James Cash Penney

Clock, n. A machine of great moral value to man, allaying his concern for the future by reminding him what a lot of time remains to him.  Ambrose Bierce

As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day; that doesn’t mean you should run out and buy one.  Euny Hong

I remember disassembling and putting an old analogue clock alarm clock together. It was a lot of fun figuring out why it still worked with that one spring missing. Markus Persson

An office clock is rarely stolen, probably because everyone watches it.  Evan Esar


Whether it’s the length of a match or the speed a race is run, most sports are ruled by time constraints. Those competing are far from blind to this, as seen below.

I don’t know if it’s just me or everyone, but the whole vibe with skiing is not so much thriving on competition against others as it is against myself and the clock. Picabo Street

Baseball is a slow, boring, complex, cerebral game that doesn’t lend itself to histrionics. You ‘take in’ a baseball game, something odd to say about a football or basketball game, with the clock running and the bodies flying. Charles Krauthammer

There’s probably nothing quite like crossing the finish line and seeing the clock read numbers that you have never seen before. Bonnie Blair

Rushing the ball is all about ball control. If you run the ball, you control the clock. If you control the clock, you usually control the game.  Tiki Barber


Oddly, most political quotes involving time or clocks do not use them to emphasise the efficiency or reliability of political processes. Quite the opposite in fact.

The world changed from having the determinism of a clock to having the contingency of a pinball machine.  Heinz Pagels

Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock. Ben Hecht

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