Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Time - Allen Curnow

I am the nor-west air among the pines
I am the water-race and the rust on railway lines
I am the mileage recorded on the yellow signs.
I am dust, I am distance, I am lupins back of the beach
I am the sums the sole-charge teachers teach
I am cows called to milking and the magpie’s screech.
I am nine o’clock in the morning when the office is clean
I am the slap of the belting and the smell of the machine
I am the place in the park where lovers were seen.
I am recurrent music the children hear
I am level noises in the remembering ear
I am the sawmill and the passionate second gear.
I, Time, am all these, yet these exist
Among my mountainous fabrics like mist,
So do they the measurable world resist.
I, Time, call down, condense, confer
On the willing memory the shapes these were:
I, more than your conscious carrier,
Am island, am sea, am father, farm, and friend,
Though I am here all things my coming attend;
I am, you have heard it, the Beginning and the End.

Allen Curnow (1911 - 2001)

Award winning New Zealand poet.
This was written when he was living on the Canterbury Plains at the start of his long career in poetry. Lupins were prevalent in the South Island countryside and many schools had only one teacher.

Some comments ...

The poem contains sets of three rhyming lines.

In the first line time is expressed as the wind moving in trees. A good place to start. Biblically the universe started by the movement of wind. Wind cannot be seen so much at the effects of what wind does - as in the movement of a tree or the sound from branches. Just as we cannot see time but are ever conscious of what happens over time. This is the most important aspect of time in that time continually facilitates change. In line two time is latent in both the movement of water and the change that water can make to the environment and in lines three and four we see that time is integral in defining distance and of course speed.

Time is independent of the measurement of time which is a human structuring based on the cyclical movement of the heavens over time. Time ‘just is’ and resists such measurement but such measurement allows definition of set events as in the office is clean at 9:00am (line 7) or the time set by a need as in the milking of cows (line 6).

Everything is defined by time including of course our personal association with specific events as in the time lovers meet in a park (line 9).

Time is like a mountainous fabric in which we clothe our lives (line 14). Mountainous because of the continual build of events. We only see life through a mist because we are limited by our perceptions and senses. Perhaps time has a purer view of life?

We can reflect on time past but it is only a poor second to what time can provide (line 18).

And of course the last line has Biblical connotation to the a ‘beginning’ and an ‘end’. Interestingly we tend to favour that there was a beginning and that there will be no end. Perhaps time has and will always be - if you like - a never ending fabric. I guess in due time we will find out.

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