AD's English Literature : Theme of Time in English Text: A Perennial Theme With The Poets of All Ages

Theme of Time in English Text: A Perennial Theme With The Poets of All Ages



"Time would pass, old empires would fall and new ones take their place…before I discovered that it is not quality of goods and utility which matter, but movement; not where you are or what you have, but where you have come from, where you are going and the rate at which you are getting there."
C. L. R. James (1901 - 1989)
 

Time theme has been a perennial theme with the poets of all ages. Time is the thief of life and time makes us conscious of our changes in age and decay. Shakespeare, through the mouth of Jaques says that it was nine one ‘hour before and it will be eleven one hour after. So we ripe every hour and thus rot, and like ripe fruits we fall. Rosalind expresses our acute sense of time when she says to Orlando how time ambles to some, how time trots to some, how time gallops to some. Shakespeare on another occasion has said that time must have a stop. In Heaven, time does not move, and it is ‘a seat of bliss’. Read More literary essays  Time is the tyrant that makes us submit to it and work according to the clock time or machine time in the modern age. Elizabeth Drew calls the tyranny of time as the ‘foremost’ in human life. Poetry can be immortal, but man himself is doomed to a time world. The Elizabethan sonneteers  including Shakespeare treat the time theme and say how their love and poetry will conquer time and death. ‘Love’s not time’s Fool’. The friend in Shakespeare’s sonnets fears that time of year when yellow leaves, or none or few do hang. When confronted with love and poetry, finite Time bows down to infinite poetry and in finite love. ‘Carpe Diem’ theme made popular by the Roman poet Catullus runs through the lyrics and sonnets of the Elizabethan time — ‘Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may/Tomorrow will be dying”. Andrew Marvell in his poem To His Coy Mistress treats time in a witty manner and brings out the serious theme of brevity of human life and love.
“But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity”.

In George Herbert’s Virtue the feeling of decay owing to the swift passage of time is echoed: “The dew shall weep thy fall to night: For thou must die.” The passing away of beauty is the expression of the sense of loss caused by the inevitable flow of time. Time is often compared to tide, and in the modern phrase the stream of consciousness, the flow of moments in human life is stressed. Read More literary essays  Man’s consciousness is in a flux like the river. Virginia Woolf s novel, The Waves is significant and suggestive of this flow of time. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher has indicated the flux of moments, and Neidham, the modern philosopher has compared time to a river. The Romantic poets have lamented the passage of time and the impermanence of human life—’Youth grows pale, spectre-thin and dies.’ For Keats, pictures on the Grecian urn are dead and deathless, silent and vibrant, static and dynamic and that inculcates a message to men.

The passage of time brings to human vision the different stages, even different facets of human life. The innocence of childhood, exuberance and vitality of youth, the commitment to certain values and sense of responsibility of manhood and the contented or worried life of old age followed by the inevitable death are all creations in the circle of time. Yeats in his poem, Sailing to Byzantium seeks to transcend the cycle of population, birth and death and immerse in the art of eternity. The poets and lovers have always searched for the ideal to transcend the barrier of time. The lover in Browning’s The Last Ride Together celebrates the ecstasy of the moment and wishes that the moment be turned into eternity. Matthew Arnold in his Growing Old is sharp with his observation of the old age.
‘What is to grow old?
Is it to lose the glory of form
The lustre of the eye?
Thomas Hardy is not dejected by the passing of time:
“But time, to make me grieve
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.”
Milton however, finds consolation in the fact that ‘To that same lot, however mean or high
Toward which time leads me, and the will of heaven.

Read More literary essays  In modern poetry, the time theme is an important preoccupation with the poets. Eliot’s Four Quarters is concerned with the individual’s relation to time and the transcendent experience of timelessness: ‘Not fare well, But fare forward, voyagers’. Again, in Dry Salvages — Eliot says,
‘While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.”
Burnt Norton begins ‘Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future.” In Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill Time is the theme. But Time’s mercy, he could play and ‘be golden’. Time is our enemy and yet it is only in time and through it we escape from it.
In many novels, time theme is emphasized. Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse has sections like The Window (integration), Time passes (Disintegration). In the latter, time is clock time, the war period when the summer cottage slowly decays, showing the break-up of the Ramsays. The Lighthouse handles time in a twofold fashion. For James and his father making the long-delayed trip to the lighthouse is actually time extended into the future as the family sundered by Mrs Ramsay’s death fuses into a new working combination. Read More literary essays  For Lily Biscoe, remaining at the cottage, time moves backward as she recreates the meaning of Mrs. Ramsay and comprehends Mrs Ramsay’s creation of the family and of life. James Joyce’s Ulysses encompasses events of a day in the life of Mr. Bloom. Temporal dimension is extended and liberated through the description of Bloom, Molly and Stephen Dedalus in their one day experiences in public bath, a newspaper office, a cemetery, the National library, a maternity hospital, a brothel and various public houses. Thus Joyce achieves an escape from the tyranny of time dimension. Marcel Proust spoke of his desire to isolate and mobilize for the duration of a lightning flash a fragment of pure time in its pure state. Bergson’s concept of time as ‘the continuation of an indefinite past in a living present’ inspires the novelists of the stream of consciousness technique.

The central character in H. G. Wells’s novel Time Machine is the time traveler who invented a machine which can travel through time, enabling him to investigate the destiny of the human species.

Time has always engaged the minds of the writers. Some have despaired of the tyranny of time, but many seek to conquer time by their robust optimism and bold attempt to extend its limit to epical dimension in thought and imagination as the lover in Donne’s The Anniversary says:
Only our love hath no decay
This, no to-morrow hath, not yesterday
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

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