Tempora Labuntur

Tempora labuntur, tacitisque senescimus annis, et fugiunt freno non remorante dies.
      —Ovid, Fasti, VI, 771-772.[1]

Remember watery Kronos, that second-generation god,
a titan who devoured all his children, thus all of us,
at last dethroned by his sister-wife, Rhea, our mother.
She gave him a swaddled stone to swallow, not Zeus.
Him she hid until the deposition of one tyrant by another.

Thus the times were born, as antique ancestors say,
and the Ancient of Days became Old Father Time,
cloaked as fondly paternal, no longer voracious.
Bring on the Saturnalia!  Each spent year, reborn,
becomes the next year’s lease.  So goes the lie.
Tempora labuntur:  The times, they slide away.

In Sumer, two millennia gone before the Hellenes
had sense to name themselves and spin creation stories,
some wide-eyed scribes found comfort in the cyclical.
Does not the horizon’s circle surround me, and starry figures
process round to begin again each year upon their start?
Sumer is dust; yet I, as though become one of them, adore
that circle the Sumerians segmented into sixty parts times six.
Tempora labuntur:  The times, they slide away.

Sixty-minute clocks tame time to clicks and blinks,
but we malcontents zoned the earth, established times standard,
and fool ourselves with saving time and killing time.
As all you slaves, I pretend mastery over that shadow god,
King Kronos, at my side, always at the high noontide of now.
Calendars, schedules, almanacs, every time-mangling deception
dupes me into believing I superintend temporality by these tools.
Rather, revengeful time obsesses me even as Bartlett amply shows.
Tempora labuntur:  The times, they slide away.

What lies beyond the slinky toy of time, the ends of which
stretch inexorably backward, onward without discoverable horizons?
Have I not for too long tended fitfully to a time
that fulfills only its own tendency?
Tempora labuntur:  The times, they slide away.

I am become Tantalus, racked between history and mystery.
Time’s plethoric minutia dangle teasingly always beyond my grasp,
condemning me to never gather even the Stoic’s fruited truth?[2]
While at my feet, nothing endures but the rush of this riverine duration.
Tempora labuntur:  The times, they slide away.

[1]   The times slide away as we grow old with silent years; without a restraining bridle, the days escape.

[2] Veritatem dies aperit:  Time discovers the truth.—Seneca, De Ira, II, 22.

Copyright © 2008 by Roger Sween.
_____

For some inward reason, most of my poems deal implicitly with time, but Tempora Labuntur is the most deliberate of them.  Dwelling on the common expression, “time flies,” when traced to its source, I found another meaning to tempora labuntur in Ovid’s Fasti, an extended poem on the holidays of the Roman calendar, that more suited my theme.

Tempora Labuntur first appeared on Helium in 2008, was posted in CeptsForm on Blogspot, 24 Feb. 2009, and moved to WordPress, 18 Nov. 2010.

For other poems by Roger Sween posted on this blog, see the list on My Poetry.

I welcome substantive comments on this blog.  Send personal comments to my email address.

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