Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt'ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?
O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall time's best jewel from time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil or beauty can forbid?
O none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
Apart from sales and contemporary reviews, the real
test and highest honor of any work is "the test of time". Over generations, time filters art and leaves only works that are worth caring about. The older an artwork is, the better it is. The ability of a work of art to endure after the death of an artist, across languages and cultures rather than his hometown and to still have meaning over the years and centuries is its true merit. The fact that Greek Tragedy and Homeric epics still
have resonance and value two thousand years after they were written testifies to their greatness. Indeed to the more romantically inclined, art offers the only real immortality
human beings can aspire to.
This trope relies implicitly on Uniqueness Value
: when there's only one
complete poem of Sappho's that survives, it is a treasure, a lone survivor against the teeth of time. It's unique and irreplaceable, a fragment of a lost era. The fact that Sappho wrote in and for a world that no longer exists also means her poems and fragments are rendered abstract, and require study to fully understand — therefore, this trope can also invoke True Art Is Incomprehensible
This trope ignores that although the "test of time" is often reliable, it's not perfect. The fact that something has survived doesn't guarantee that it's good. What if the only complete poem of Sappho was a first draft and thus incomplete, or something she considered an Old Shame
Furthermore, an overly strict adherence to this trope can result in a mindset that views any art that originates after a certain point to be lesser than that which precedes it. In addition, from a purely statistical basis (due to population growth, improved leisure time, et cetera), it's extremely likely that there are more contemporary
works of art than have been created in the earlier days of human history. Even taking into account the number of works from previous eras that no longer exist
, there were still comparatively few compared to how many are produced today.
Compare Nostalgia Filter
, which is this trope on a smaller timescale.