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“Midnight” is a poem by Julia Marcus, age 13. The poem describes how lonely it must be to be a clock hanging on the wall in the middle of the night. In particular the poem laments the fact that there is no one to ask the clock what time it is, even if the clock knows the time.

How does this poet play with poetic forms?

The poem is written in sixteen very short lines. Each line is between one and four words long. It is written in a single stanza. There is mostly no punctuation, except on three lines, because the poem is composed of a single sentence. 

Even though the lines are short, there isn’t a precise rule to how short each line will be. It varies line to line. There’s something extremely compelling about this variation in a poem about a clock. A clock is very regimented—each second is a set length, each minute is a set length, and each hour is a set length. But this poem has a looser rhythm:

It must be
so lonely
to be a clock
in the middle

There’s so much going on in these four lines! First, they are really interesting on a sound level. We open on a rhyme between “be” and “lonely.” It’s a rhyme that we can’t see, because it exists between the “e” and the “y”. Then, we get lots of “o” sounds: “so lonely to be a clock.” The assonance is really satisfying, especially when we depart from the pattern of o’s in “be a” and then return to the in “clock.” 

The sounds also help set a scene. There’s a relative stillness to “so lonely” that is disrupted by the hastiness of the line that comes after it: “to be a clock.” “In the middle” slows down once again, and by the time we get to “hanging” I can feel the pendulum of the poem swinging slower and slower. Though the poem reminds us that the clock is “steadily ticking,” the ticking of the poem is more of an ebb and flow. 

This poem creates an almost breath-like feeling in the way it thinks about time. There’s something really human about the poem’s movements, and decidedly un-clocklike. This is interesting when we think about the poem’s content. The poem seems to ask whether a clock’s time really exists or matters if there is no one there to see it. The poem answers affirmatively yes—clocks themselves experience time, even when we humans aren’t around. 

Discussion questions:

  • Do you think this poem would have felt different to read if its lines had been longer? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the writer chose to put the word “hanging” on its own line?



It must be
so lonely
to be a clock
in the middle
of the night
on the wall
steadily ticking
through the darkness
with no one
awake to ask:
What time is it?
even though
you will be able
to say
just the same.

Julia Marcus, 13 Culver City, CA