Here is a poem in which the title is a description of the subject of the poem, and is also designed to make the reader think about something which almost everybody would take for granted. The objective is to intrigue the reader and draw him or her straight into the poem. There might also be a slight comic intent, but I am not completely sure of this.
So the natural lead-in to this poem by X.J. Kennedy is “What is the purpose of time?” And here is the answer…
The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once
by X.J. Kennedy, from The Lords of Misrule.
Suppose your life a folded telescope
Durationless, collapsed in just a flash
As from your mother’s womb you, bawling, drop
Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash
Your car, your marriage—toddler laying waste
A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen
With lover zipping up your pants in haste
Hearing your parents’ tread downstairs—all one.
Einstein was right. That would be too intense.
You need a chance to preen, to give a dull
Recital before an indifferent audience
Equally slow in jeering you and clapping.
Time takes its time unraveling. But, still,
You’ll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?
The first half of the poem, paints a picture of what it would be like if time didn’t exist, if everything happened instantaneously in someone’s life. You can find a similar concept in Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot”, which has an image of a woman giving birth astride a grave.
Then in the ninth line we have the poem’s pivot point – a nod to Einstein, modernity, science, the poet’s sophistication, and the understated conclusion that such a instantaneously lived life would be too intense. Yes. Indeed. The next four lines are closer to reality, the slow passage of time opening up a world of contrast, of slow development, of one thing leading to another.
And then the last line brings everything back together, reconciling the opposing states – at the end of life there would be no difference between having lived sequentially or simultaneously – you are dead, that’s all. What happened?
And, by the way, this is a sonnet.
The Poetry Dude