Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime . . .
With these words Andrew Marvell opens a poem that is both clever in its mockery of the traditional love poem and realistic in its awareness of the constrictions that Time places on us — not merely within the arena of love (or, possibly, lust, given Marvell’s implied ardor for the lady he addresses) but within virtually every area of our lives.
My favorite part of Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is the oft-quoted “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near . . .” I doubt that the poem would be as fresh in my mind if my daughter hadn’t had to answer some questions about it for her AP English literature class a month or so ago. Marvell’s image of the chariot hurrying just behind him, the horses’ wings beating powerfully as the chariot moves relentlessly through the clouds, is one that many writers have picked up on (even without checking, I feel fairly sure that T. S. Eliot alluded to this poem in The Waste Land, because — let’s face it — Eliot alluded to everything but the kitchen sink in The Waste Land).
Time breathing down my neck, chasing behind me: somehow, I don’t seem as bothered by that idea any more. Yes, the days still have too much to be achieved in them, and maybe that’s part of the problem. When I have so many things on my “To Do” list that I can’t think where to start, Time doesn’t feel as much like a tyrant because I am too frozen in indecisiveness to start moving. But — that’s not where I’d like to run with this stream-of-consciousness response to Pav’s prompt of “back.” I don’t know want this to be another myopic meditation: I’d prefer to get back to the idea of Time, and why Time no longer threatens me like it used to do.
Marvell’s poem fits into a category known as “carpe diem,” or seize the day. Robin Williams, as John Keating in Dead Poets Society, helped bring this Latin phrase into the mainstream, but in Marvell’s time this phrase already was a standard theme of the poets. Thinking of Robin Williams is saddening now: such a gifted man, with unseen problems that prevented him from going on with his life. He left many memorable characters for us to remember him by. It will be difficult to see his Teddy Roosevelt (President Roosevelt, I should say) in the next Night at the Museum movie, which opens on Christmas Day, or so my daughter tells me.
This is the same daughter who was reading Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” this fall. She wanted to watch Dead Poets Society, which we own as a DVD. I’d like to say that “mysteriously” we couldn’t find it, but that really wouldn’t be true. At one time, I had a fairly good system of organization going for our DVD and VHS collection, but an influx of cheap DVDs from Big Lots and those daunting bins at Walmart has long since overrun any system that I had going. We still watch our VHS tapes, from time to time, so I don’t want to get rid of them; still, if it’s a movie that we have on both VHS and DVD, maybe the VHS tape could be moved to a holding area. (I was glad that we still had our VHS tape of When Harry Met Sally . . ., which we finally decided that the older kids were mature enough to see last night. The quality wasn’t great, but Netflix doesn’t work well in our house — I probably need to upgrade the internet connection, but it’s always painful to spend money on things that you can’t actually see.)
My other daughter and I recently saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last films, Mockingjay — Part 1. He was excellent in the role of Plutarch Heavensbee, but it was hard to watch him, knowing that his life ended tragically from an accidental drug overdose months before the movie’s release. Much as I enjoy movies, the pressure of a life in the spotlight seems to be more of a curse than a blessing. Even for the average person, it can be difficult to cope with the curve balls that we encounter in life.
For me, although time with a little “t” can create pressure, it is also my friend. Were it not for the unstoppable movement of the dials on the clock, I might never achieve anything. Some of us need a reminder to “seize the day.”
This post is part of lindaghill‘s Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday event and is written in response to the prompt “back,” provided by Pavowski. Many thanks to Pavowski, the author of Pavorisms, who subbed for Linda this week.