Short If You Sing It, Long If You Sigh

Little by Little, the time goes by — short if you sing it, long if you sigh. — Anon.

When I was on sabbatical I collected a few quotes. I still have that journal of quotes, and from time to time I open it back up to remind myself of what I was thinking almost twenty five years ago. This morning I came across the above, but it was unsourced. I Googled it to no avail, maybe one of my readers know its source, certainly it wasn’t original to me.

Time does go by quickly, and the older I become the quicker it passes, maybe that means I can finally carry a tune.

A deep sigh is necessary from time to time — an opportunity is lost, a bad result seems inevitable, or we experience a great loss. Sometimes a deep sigh is the perfect expression for how we feel, certainly I had a few of such moments while I was on sabbatical. I bet you have too.

But when we get lost in our sighs no progress is made, no future can be seen, and time stands still. I know of people who have lived in their sighs almost their entire adult life.

If I find myself sighing too long or too loudly, I have learned to sing. Maybe not literally, even in the shower I am off key, but figuratively. I seek out humor, good company, nature, and yes the lush melodic and healing therapy of music in all kinds of forms, classical, folk, country, and the rock and roll of my past.

I still wonder the source of the wisdom above and what I was thinking when I wrote the above. Maybe I had just emerged from listening to the lush choral programs broadcast by Frostburg State, a small university in the western tip of Maryland, or maybe I had emerged from a long sigh caused another injustice I had witnessed or experienced while on sabbatical.

Whatever, I sit at my computer today listening to WDAV and classical music. Maybe this afternoon I will listen the the country duo Sugarland. I have lots of options for I try every day to keep my sighs to a minimum and the songs to a maximum.

About the author

Webb Hubbell is the former Associate Attorney General of The United States. His novels, When Men Betray, Ginger Snaps, A Game of Inches, The Eighteenth Green, and The East End are published by Beaufort Books and are available online or at your local bookstore. When Men Betray won one of the IndieFab awards for best novel in 2014. Ginger Snaps and The Eighteenth Green won the IPPY Awards Gold Medal for best suspense/thriller. His latest, “Light of Day” will be on the bookstands soon.


  1. In googling for the Little by Little poem last year (I used most of it in my Christmas letter of 2019), I was able to find the poem – no author mentioned. As relevant as it was to use in 2019, it’s even more relevant in 2020 – so I will use it again in my 2020 Christmas letter.

    This year I could not find it again but it brought up your blog. So, in case you did not yet find it, here it is!

    Little by little the time goes by,
    Short if you sing through it, long if you sigh;
    Little by little, an hour, a day,
    Gone with the years that have vanished away:
    Little by little the race is run,
    Trouble and waiting and toil are done!

    Little by little the skies grow clear;
    Little by little the sun comes near;
    Little by little the days smile out
    Gladder and brighter on pain and doubt;
    Little by little the seed we sow
    Into a beautiful yield will grow.

    Little by little the world grows strong,
    Fighting the battle of right and wrong;
    Little by little the wrong gives way,
    Little by little the right has sway,
    Little by little all longing souls
    Struggle up nearer the shining goals.

    Little by little the good in men
    Blossoms to beauty, for human ken;
    Little by little the angels see
    Prophecies better of good to be;
    Little by little the God of all
    Lifts the world nearer the pleading call.

    In the article I found, it just listed as contributed by Church Union. No idea where or what that was or who actually wrote it. But I’ve always loved that first line!

  2. I, too, am curious about this saying. The version I have is on a small 3-photo frame, “Little by little time goes by, short if you sing, long if you sigh. Note by note, life’s music plays on, songs ever changing but never gone.” I happened upon the frame in a pile of discarded free stuff, and as I am a musician with 3 children, finding it felt serendipitous.

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