Time by Allen Curnow

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He believed in living literature. He once said, “You can’t write literature, you can’t paint art”. First published in 1977, ‘Time’ reflects nature and life in New Zealand. Some of his poetry tried to explore ‘the private and unanswerable. ’ This is one such poem.. Here “Time” speaks for itself. Thus the poem is time’s autobiography. The first four stanzas contain random images of time, and time is everywhere. In the first stanza, time is in the northwest monsoon blowing through the pine forests. It is dynamic like the racing water, and static like the unused rails on which trains do not run. It is also static like the mileage written on boards that have yellowed with time. Thus time keeps others moving towards their destinations, although static itself in the form of a mileage board. In the second stanza,

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Time is the dust which fills the atmosphere. It is like lupins that grow along the beach to stop erosion. It is the sums taught by a sole teacher of a rural school, where there is only one class and one teacher, and perhaps one time. It is like the cows about to yield milk and the song of the magpie. The third stanza marks the beginning of work in a clean office and its hustle and bustle. The smell emanating from the machines at work, indicate time in full swing. Time is compared to a place in the park where lovers meet. In the fourth stanza, time is the timeless music enjoyed by children over the years, or perhaps a familiar refrain that bring back memories of a bygone time. It is the echo of familiar noises in the ear. Even the sawmill represents time’s activity, and the time conscious driver applies the second gear in a bid to hurry. In the fifth stanza, Curnow compares the first four stanzas to mist.

The phrase ‘my mountainous’ is a metaphor and ‘like a mist’ is a simile. All the images in the first four stanzas are like a huge fabric of mist that wraps a mountain, which cannot be contained but melt away like the mist. It cannot be measured or contained. In the 6th stanza, Time lives in our memory, packing into its tiny spaces events of bygone years. It is sharper than our very being. In the final stanza, Curnow presents all aspects of New Zealand life, island, sea, father, farm and friend. All these things work to time. The final line, ‘I am, you have heard it, the Beginning and the End’ seems to encompass an almost Godlike status of Time. It is a bibilical reference to the ‘Alpha and the Omega’ in the Book of Revelations. Although the poem is in the first person, the poet goes back into the past when he speaks of ‘recurrent music’ and ‘willing memory’. I also think he is referring to the future when he says  and the end’ in the final line of the poem. Time is presented as omnipresent. The stanzas which are presented in rhyming triplets, are unusual and rich in alliterations. Time is a force, it is all pervasive and continuous. In conclusion, we are left to imagine that time can represent whatever each individual desires it to represent. Perhaps Curnow is trying to explore ‘the private and unanswerable’.

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Time by Allen Curnow. (2017, Sep 18). Retrieved August 20, 2022 , from

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