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He served as a professor of English literature at Princeton between 1899 and 1923. Among the many students whom he influenced was, notably, future celebrity travel writer Richard Halliburton (1900-1939), Editor-in-Chief, at the time, of the Princeton Pictorial.
By appointment of President Woodrow Wilson, a friend and former classmate of van Dyke, he became Minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1913. Shortly after his appointment, World War I threw Europe into dismay. Americans all around Europe rushed to Holland as a place of refuge. Although inexperienced as an ambassador, van Dyke conducted himself with the skill of a trained diplomat, maintaining the rights of Americans in Europe and organizing work for their relief. He later related his experiences and perceptions in the book Pro Patria (1921).
Van Dyke resigned as ambassador at the beginning of December 1916 and returned to the United States. He was subsequently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received many other honors.
Van Dyke was a friend of Helen Keller. Keller wrote: "Dr. van Dyke is the kind of a friend to have when one is up against a difficult problem. He will take trouble, days and nights of trouble, if it is for somebody else or for some cause he is interested in. 'I'm not an optimist,' says Dr. van Dyke, 'there's too much evil in the world and in me. Nor am I a pessimist; there is too much good in the world and in God. So I am just a meliorist, believing that He wills to make the world better, and trying to do my bit to help and wishing that it were more.'"
Van Dyke died on April 10, 1933. He is buried in Princeton Cemetery. A biography of Van Dyke, titled Henry Van Dyke: A Biography, was written by his son Tertius van Dyke and published in 1935.
Illustration by Harry Fenn from Out-of-Doors in the Holy Land, 1908
Among his popular writings are the two Christmas stories, "The Other Wise Man" (1896) and "The First Christmas Tree" (1897). Various religious themes of his work are also expressed in his poetry, hymns and the essays collected in Little Rivers (1895) and Fisherman's Luck (1899). He wrote the lyrics to the popular hymn, "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" (1907), sung to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". He compiled several short stories in The Blue Flower (1902), named after the key symbol of Romanticism introduced first by Novalis. He also contributed a chapter to the collaborative novel, The Whole Family (1908).
One of van Dyke's best-known poems is titled "Time Is" (Music and Other Poems, 1904), also known as "For Katrina's Sundial" because it was composed to be an inscription on a sundial in the garden of an estate owned by his friends Spencer and Katrina Trask. The second section of the poem, which was read at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, reads as follows:
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not.
(This is the original poem; some versions have "Eternity" in place of "not.")
The poem inspired the song "Time Is" by the group It's a Beautiful Day on their eponymous 1969 debut album. Another interpretation of the poem is a song entitled "Time" by Mark Masri (2009).
^Richard Halliburton, His Story of His Life's Adventures As told in Letters to his Mother and Father (Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company 1940), letter, November 2, 1920, p. 65; also, December 6, 1920, p. 68.
^Time, sung Live, by Mark Masri on YouTube - Live Performance, at Fallsview Casino, Canada. In the song, "Time", as sung by Mark Masri, the lyrics (compared to those written by Henry van Dyke) are written this way: "Time is too slow for those who wait, time is too swift for those who fear, time is too long for those who grieve, but for those who love, those who are loved, time is eternity".