As far back as I can remember, clocks and the passing of time have held a fascination for me. The steady tick tock of a pendulum clock both soothes and hypnotises. As in a dream, I imagine Old Father Time, with his sickle chopping up seconds which, once gone will never return. Ultimately time catches up with us all.
“The sickle chops
And the heart will, one day stop”.
One of the first poems I recollect reading, is Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Even Such is Time”, which runs thus:
“Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust,
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days,
And from which earth, and grave, and dust
The Lord shall raise me up, I trust”.
It is often said that Raleigh penned the above poem on the night before his execution, while imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding the poem’s composition, it remains for me, a powerful exposition of the hold time has over us all. Man can not escape his clutches and we will all end our days in the cold and silent grave, although (admittedly) most of us will not succumb to the executioner’s axe.
Time remains, for the poet a topic of continuing fascination. Raleigh penned “Even Such is Time” in the reign of Elizabeth I. Yet, in the 20th century we find the same preoccupation with Old Father Time. Take, for example Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening”.
In the poem, the poet sees 2 lovers, one of whom expresses his love for the other, saying that love will never die. Yet time reminds us of his presence giving the lie to the lover’s words:
“But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time”.
The poem ends with the lovers “gone”, while the deep river continues to run. Time (as the river) runs perpetually on his course, while we humans are here for a moment then, gone.
Is this preoccupation with time not somewhat morbid? I don’t believe so for by recognising that we are all constrained by time (and, in particular that we will one day, all die), we can make the most of our brief stay here on this planet of ours. As Robert Herrick puts it in his poem, “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time”:
“Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry”.
Many young women may object that they have no wish to marry. Be that as it may, the broader point remains valid, namely that we ought to enjoy ourselves while we can for
“Old Time is still a-flying”.
Time flies and man, surely dies. We can, however make the most of our lives while we are here.
I would like to close with a poem written by me in November 2016, entitled “My Old Clock I Wind”:
“My old clock I wind
And much philosophy therein find.
I can bring
The pendulum’s swing
To a stop with my hand;
Yet I cannot command
Time to default
On his duty and halt
The passing of the years.
He has no ears
For our laughter and tears
And his sickle will swing on
Long after we are gone”.
(The above poem is taken from my forthcoming collection of poetry, “My Old Clock I Wind and Other Poems”, which will be published (in print and electronic formats) by Moyhill Publishing, in May/June 2017).