Time Never Waits
By Shireen Senadhira
Every day, we hear about time and we act according to time. First, it is to get up on time if the day is not a holiday. When we wake up the first thought is today Monday or Tuesday or what day is it? Then, after discerning what day it is, it is either, not to get late for the function, be it a wedding, meeting or not to get late for work as to beat the traffic congestion or to get ready in time for school, for an appointment with the medical doctor or meet up with some persons. Our life is related to time and we cannot get away from this fact. That's why we have clocks and alarm clocks working well in most homes. Some people have the tendency to wake up at a particular time be it 6am or 5am or whatever time they need to, so as to be able to do their daily chores and be ready in time to start the day well.
Pondering on all this that I remembered the poem 'Time You Old Gypsy Man' which we used to rattle off in school and then forget all about it till the exams came up and we had to cram it then. How apt it this old poem is and it is by Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962). The poem begins thus: "TIME, you old gipsy man,/ Will you not stay,/ Put up your caravan / Just for one day?" But who reads Ralph Hodgson's poetry today? Few people under the age of 40 have even heard of this strange Englishman who died early 1960s in a small town in the American mid-west. His most famous poems are those once learnt by schoolchildren like 'Time you old Gypsy Man' or 'The Bells of Heaven.' Both are pleasant poetry.
In the poem, Time you old Gypsy Man,' Hodgson goes on trying to cajoling just a day from the old gypsy, Time. He promises all manner of things to get time to pause in Time's schedule. " ...Bells for your jennet / Of silver the best, / Goldsmiths shall beat you / A great golden ring, / Peacocks will bow to you. / Little boys sing./ Oh, and sweet girls will / Festoon you with may." The meaning of 'jennet' and 'may' both in simple letters, are a jennet is smallish Spanish horse and 'may' is a shrub plant with clusters of small white flowers along slender branches. What's your hurry? Hodgson challenges Time. He traces the gypsy's itinerary: "Last week in Babylon, / Last night in Rome, / Morning, and in the crush / Under Paul's dome." But what's the big rush? He requested the time to put up its caravan just for one day, but the time never stays. It passes and passes. Nobody can stop its ever-busy frigate even for a second. We know how precious time is for us. If we don't use it properly, it will run away and never come back. So, we need to use the time properly.
Other poems reflecting time
I like to take a whimsical look at some other poems that relate to time. There is Shelley's lament 'O World! O Life! O Time! On whose last steps, I climb....'
This is taken from the poem, A Lament, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is not so clear as to exactly what he is grieving about. It is a short lyric, which consists of ten lines only. The poem gives expression to a feeling of deep melancholy. Addressing the world, life, and time, the poet asks when the glory of their prime will return, and he himself supplies the answer which is: "No more – Oh, never more." There is no joy in these lines at all. He also asks if the world, life, and time will ever again get back the beauty and joy which once belonged to them. Thus, the poet, by implications, refers to the ancient past glorious period. The present time of mankind is, according to him, a period of unhappiness. The ancient glory of the world will never return. However, elsewhere in his poetry, Shelley utters bright prophecies about the future of mankind. Here he sees no ray of hope. In this poem he refers to time as the harbinger of sadness and evil.
He cannot condone the great change that seems to have taken place in the world. And it seems he does not want to go with that great change. This is the reason why he grieves over the past time he spent, and wishes that the gone moments come again. But he might know that time and tide never comes again. Change is the rule of nature. Everything on this earth is subject to change. The born thing is destined to decay. ...... insert or not? Time passes relentlessly and .....etc
"To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" is a poem written by English poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) giving advice to young maidens.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old time is still a-flying
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow may be dying.
The title shows that the speaker is addressing this poem to a group of virgins. He's telling them that they should gather their "rosebuds" while they can, because time is quickly passing. He drives home this point with some images from nature, including flowers dying and the sun setting. He thinks that one's youth is the best time in life, and the years after that aren't so great. The speaker finishes off the poem by encouraging these young virgins to make good use of their time by getting married, before they're past their prime and lose the chance. He is concerned for the youth and reminding that time does not tally.
The theme of time ravaging beauty is constant and in Shakespeare's sonnets, he calls on time to halt its destruction of beauty. In Sonnet 19 of Shakespeare the following lines show this :
...but I forbid thee one more heinous crime
O carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen.
What the poet wants in his verse is the prospect of immortality for the youth. Not only will the youth live forever, but he will be eternally young, and the ravages of time will not touch him. Time, of course, will instead do the conventional damage which is customary and known to all, killing sweetness and beauty everywhere and, despite a temporary prohibition, which the poet then abandons, time will proceed on its usual course, and even do its worst against the youth, the poet's love. Yet despite this the youth will survive in the verses made to celebrate his beauty and the poet's love for him. This sonnet shows the relation of time to the youth.
The poet Edward FitzGerald's (1809 – 1883), rendering of Omar Khayyam's (1048– 1131) The Rubáiyát which is vivid in describing, verse after verse, the passing pageant of life. The first verse is thus:
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.
Here Khayyam describes night and day so picturesquely that immediately an exotic picture is formed. What does this poem mean? How does it work? It does, it is so dramatic and I have to say, to my mind, it is about the best description of the first ray of sunlight falling on a building. The unmistakable mixed metaphor is displayed as a unique literary phenomenon and very well. It could be/should be a piece of Orientalism, appealing to a late Victorian taste for the exotic; a piece of free-thinking that could be exciting to the respectable and devout. Why is it so loveable and beloved? It has been such an inspiration for artists and book designers? The Rubáiyát is always published alone with Fitzgerald's Preface and never anthologized. The 1907 Routledge edition is luxuriously printed with one stanza per page, and lavishly illustrated with photogravures of drawings by Gilbert James – the book is somehow intended to be a beautiful casket to contain a gem of a single poem. The Rubáiyát also summons up instantly an aesthetic and intellectual image of the late Victorian and Edwardian era.
Why is it so loveable and beloved? It has been such an inspiration for artists and book designers. It is never anthologized, always published alone, with Fitzgerald's Preface, in which he sets out a more or less legendary biography for Omar, and sometimes with his own distinctly personal endnotes.
The work is a version of a collection of quatrains, in the form called 'Ruba'i', attributed with more or less authenticity to Omar, an astronomer and mathematician of the late 11th/early 12th century. His mathematical work is still extant, but the Rubai'yat, probably in origin an oral form, stuck to him by reputation, after his death. Each quatrain encapsulates a thought, and stands alone.
Here are some more verses related to time:
Think in this batter'd Caravanserai
Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day
How Sultan after Sultan with his pomp
Abode his Hour, and went his way.
and in another sadder verse:-
Ah Moon of my delight who knows no wane
The Moon of Heaven is rising once again
How oft hereafter shall she look
Through this same Garden after me, in vain.
Poets and mystic time
Looking more eastwards the Indians such as Tagore and the Chinese, allude to time and eternities beyond the temporal world. The following is an inspiring translation of the 'Tao Teh King' (also spelled 'Tao Te Ching' at times') by one Isabella Mears which is strangely reminiscent of the Poet Francis Thompson and his poem 'No Strange Land.'
From the Tao Teh King - XIV.
LOOKING at it, you do not see it.
You call it invisible.
Listening to it, you do not hear it.
You call it, inaudible
Touching it, you do not grasp it.
You call it intangible
These three cannot be described.
But they blend, and are one.
Tagore poem: Endless Time
Time is endless in thy hands, my lord./There is none to count thy minutes.
Days and nights pass and ages bloom and fade like flowers./Thou knowest how to wait.
Thy centuries follow each other perfecting a small wild flower.
We have no time to lose,/and having no time we must scramble for a chance./We are too poor to be late.
And thus it is that time goes by/while I give it to every querulous man who claims it,/and thine altar is empty of all offerings to the last.
At the end of the day I hasten in fear lest thy gate be shut;/but I find that yet there is time.
Tagore is one of the greatest poets and writers in modern Indian literature and in this poem he speaks about the nature of time. We humans believe that time has certain limitations and we need to accomplish a lot before our life comes to an end. The poet presents the idea that time is endless and is in the hands of the almighty, who is the creator. He further adds that for God there is no limit to time as he has seen centuries pass by and will continue to do so for centuries to come. Time is infinite for the almighty. We mortals tend to get impatient when we feel like time is running out of our hands and yet there is a lot to achieve. The poet wants to convey that time is divine, yet one must not cling to it. We must value time as it is a precious thing but must also learn to live for the moment.
Tagore's 'Poems on time.'
The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.
Time is a wealth of change,
but the clock in its parody makes it mere change and no wealth.
Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time
like dew on the tip of a leaf.
Can time stand still?
We live in a fast-paced world, entire days breeze in and out without stopping to really feel them and enjoy them too if possible. We allow our precious moments to blend into heartwarming blurry photos and then when they disappear we ask ourselves where time went as we want more of it? It is reminiscent of the song in the Musical 'Fiddler on the Roof.'
This song is performed at the wedding of Tevye and Golde's eldest daughter. The two parents sing about how they can't believe their daughter has grown up, while Hodel (the 2nd daughter) and Perchik sing about whether there may be a wedding in the nearby future for them. The song is thus:
(Tevye) Is this the little girl I carried?/Is this the little boy at play?
(Golde) I don't remember growing older/ When did they?
(Tevye) When did she get to be a beauty?/ When did he grow to be so tall?
(Golde) Wasn't it yesterday/ When they were small?
(Chorus) Sunrise, sunset/ Sunrise, sunset/ Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers/ Blossoming even as we gaze
Many parents including us feel just the same way. Especially when a daughter dresses as a bride and you see her or a son, as the groom, the parents get a shock to see the children of yesterday adult, poised to take on the world and they get speechless as their hearts miss a beat and with moist eyes, they gather their thoughts. Luckily no one breaks into a song like Tevye and Golde! All the while the sun rises and sets and time never waits but keeps marching along.
But every now and then we come across a beautiful sunset, listen to a mesmerizing song, a moving piece of artwork which is able to fully captivate our attention or maybe it is the smell of special coffee and croissants in the morning and for that brief period, time seems to stand still. This sensation of frozen time often arises as a byproduct of awe, that rare but overwhelming feeling of reverence we experience when witnessing something wondrous. Also, the longing and enjoyment hearing the snatches of a favourite song or that of a fragrant smell and we wish somehow to prolong it.
What to do in the ongoing time
'Leisure' is a poem by the Welsh poet W H Davies, appearing originally appearing originally in his Songs of Joy and Others, published in 1911. The poem is written as a set of seven rhyming couplets.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
This poems warns us that the hectic pace of modern life has a detrimental effect on the human spirit. It shows that the modern man has no time to spend free time in the lap of nature. This should not be so. Always, one must have time for nature as this is one way of uplifting one's spirits in a busy mundane world. Each individual is so occupied and busy with their day to day work, to achieve the larger objectives in life that they forget to notice the smaller things in life and the happiness they can derive out of these smaller things. When we get up in the morning, we fail to notice that a new beautiful day is waiting for us. All we are interested in is conducting our daily jobs and work. Even though time goes on relentlessly, we should remember that we need to stop for a few moments every now and then to enjoy these material pleasures we have earned for ourselves. As a result, we will also get rid of the emptiness that has essentially become a part of our lives as a result of our fast lives.
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