Poem #5/52

The Furniture of Time
Here is the fifth poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:


only time,
gives our actions meanings
say goodnight
to the milkman
three pints tomorrow
to the bus conductor
off-peak return please
to your wife in bed
and life quickly dissolves
in a torrent of lost meaning
a life out of sequence
is no life at all.

only time,
makes our actions meaningless
the endless routines
the banality of nine to five
shirts pressed meals cooked
the tyranny of habit
makes life a barter with death
why not forget it then?
to be born each morning
then dying every night:
a life without memory
is life without regret.

at last,
only time,
can act upon our meanings
your perfect beauty
decaying into dust
my casual remarks
immortalised in retrospect, perhaps
the difference between thought and touch
perpetuity and transience
reveals the truth of life:
that time cannot be wasted
if action soothes thinking
and thinking enriches acts.


Written when I was around 21 or 22 years old, and perhaps not the greatest thing I have ever written, but I keep it as part of this sequence because it seems to me to have some useful ideas at its centre. Time and perceived the lack of it is very much at the heart of our current civilisations little clutch of favourite neuroses and paranoias. But this must be a largely modern obsession. The ancient Romans for instance, having no electric lights to work by, divided the daylight hours equally throughout the year, meaning that a winter hour was much short than a summer one. Without a wrist-watch or the omni-present mobile phone, how would you perceive time really? We talk of slow days because they are boring and fast ones because we are busy, but feel certain that these are only illusions. But a lot more is an illusion the deeper you look. Only with the invention of the modern clock, do we begin to beat ourselves about the head with idea of time being something fixed and relentless. Gravity waves constantly intersect the Earth and do indeed distort time infinitesimally. Einstein tells us that our planet’s gravity distorts the fabric of space time, so would a larger planet have faster or slower time? You see? Time isn’t stable and nor is our perceptual interaction with it.

Quantum Mechanics now suggests that time may not exist in any empirical sense, but it is purely a bi-product of consciousness and cell-decay. That’s meant to be science, but sounds increasingly like religious mysticism to me. What we can be sure of is that each of our physical bodies are programmed to decay and eventually fail due to a built-in inhibitor on the capacity of our cells to go on sub-dividing (telomeres etc). But our consciousness clearly stands apart from this limitation, at least while we’re alive and in good health. Ever had a three hour dream then opened your eyes to see that the bedside clock has only moved on by one second? I have. Not only that, I’ve seen times when it has moved on by NO SECONDS. Explain that to me.

Buddhists believe that a human soul hangs around in the air for 49 days before taking leave of its relatives. If science is to be a search for truth rather than just another religious dogma, then we should at least entertain the possibility that human consciousness can persist in some as-yet undetectable state for a limited period of time after death. Today’s heresy is tomorrow’s science. Today’s sceptics are tomorrow’s laughing stocks, as Galileo sacrificed his very freedom at the hands of the Roman Inquisition to show us. To him, it was only common sense.
de Chirico-the philosophers conquest
Choosing an image to go with this post was a challenge, since time has proven as tricky a subject for artists to depict as for scientists to decipher. The obvious choice would have been Salvador Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ or Georgio de Chirico’s ‘The Philosopher’s Conquest’(inset, right), but we like to push things further in this blog. The paintings above are Yves Tanguy’s ‘The Furniture Of Time’ and ‘The Transparent Ones’. I’ve always been fascinated by Tanguy’s landscapes, which seem to exist in the realm of dream and nightmare, peopled by the kind of objects that taunted you in childhood fevers. They seem to presage some weird physics of the future in which we may be able unravel the fabric of the universe and bend it to our own needs. God help us then.

This entry was posted in 52 Poem Sequence, Art, History, Poetry, Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

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