Saturday, 24 March 2007
British Summer Time, Cows and Wallace Stevens On Thinking
So having read or rather croaked with friends at The Poetry Café in London last night, I was off early this morning to a small Norfolk town to audition for a tour of village halls in the autumn. It was raining, windy and bitterly cold….The magnolia tree opposite my house has been unceremoniously stripped of its pink frou-frou frock and is shivering in its grey bark knickers. It does not know that it is officially spring.The clocks go strong>forward this week-end and apparently it is a hundred years exactly since British Summer Time was first proposed. As a rule I forget such things and wake on Sunday with my life, as ruled by Radio 4 on Sundays, totally out of sync. The Archers and Desert Island Discs are not where my body clock expects to find them. I find the mysteries of time measurement intriguing; twice a year we can make a whole hour disappear and reappear like a rabbit from a top hat. I know how we manage time is arbitrary, we chunk the passage of time up into small manageable parcels to which we give names like second, hour, week, year. We have machines and gadgets whose sole function is to measure these parcels and present it to us in a visual manner so we know how many of these parcels have passed and how many more are to come before it is morning, lunch, the appearance of a train, the start of East Enders, our retirement, the end of a long poetry reading by someone who has no sense of the average capacity of the human bladder. The means become an end in itself at times.
Popes, committees, men of government have met and deliberated long and hard how to conjure with time. British Summertime was invented in 1916 to maximize daylight hours for the war machine and save on lighting. Double summer time was introduced in the Second World War again to make maximum use of the daylight hours for production of planes, tanks, nourishing meals from dried egg and spam. We are very good at finding time for war. An old farmer friend of my father once told me that altering the clocks by two hours played havoc with the dairy cows. The times to be milked are dictated by their own pace, the rhythmic operation of three stomachs, the slow chew of the cud, the time spent examining the view over the fence and how the field looks rather good in green. Cows he told me will not be rushed, they do things at their own pace. They don’t live with the idea of time but time itself. As soon as I typed that I realized I was either remembering or simply running by accident into a Wallace Steven’s poem I know quite well. Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself. This poem places itself in the month of March so perhaps subconsciously I was already heading there. Wallace Stevens was famous for his statement that ‘The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully". He was, however, still very keen on thinking, in an old journal of mine I have a copied extract he wrote to a young friend.
‘There is no passion like the passion of thinking which grows stronger as one grows older, even though one never thinks anything of any particular interest to anyone else. Spend an hour or two a day even if in the beginning you are staggered by the confusion and aimlessness of your thoughts.’
Of course this blog is a way of thinking out loud and I am constantly staggered since I started it by my own confusion and aimlessness. Unfortunately I don’t see myself as a beginner, I think I am quite an advanced thinker; I could sit and think for hours about the view over the fence and how a field looks rather good in green.