A Short Analysis of William Allingham’s ‘Everything passes and vanishes’

A very short Victorian poem

We didn’t include this lovely quatrain from William Allingham, beginning ‘Everything passes and vanishes’, in our compilation of short Victorian poems; though we could easily have done so. William Allingham (1824-89) was an Irish poet whose most enduringly popular poem is ‘The Faeries’; his Diary, which contains his encounters with the great and the good of Victorian letters, is also widely praised. But this little quatrain seems like the perfect ‘Friday thought’ to usher in the weekend:

Everything passes and vanishes
Everything leaves its trace;
And often you see in a footstep
What you could not see in a face.

Forgiving the slight tautology of ‘Everything passes and vanishes’, this is a finely crafted poem, with the conciseness and construction of a proverb or aphorism. The image of seeing in a footstep what you could not see in a face suggests that some people’s importance is only recognised after they have gone (either passing out of our lives, or passing out of life altogether).

The appeal to the general ‘you’ rather than the impersonal ‘one’ (‘often you see’, not ‘often one sees’) involves us all in this act of retrospective realisation, encouraging us to reflect on such a moment from our own lives where we’ve had recourse to feel such a regret.

If you’d like to discover more of William Allingham’s work, there’s a fine selection here.

Image: William Allingham, from an engraving published in 1908 (author: Emery Walker), via Wikimedia Commons.

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