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“Having a Mind to Change the World” By Howard Nemerov Essay

The poem is about daylight saving time. Daylight Saving Time (DST) is an age-old practice where people would advance time by one hour to extend daylight time into the night. In effect, they would sacrifice sunrise time, also by one hour. People in the regions affected would adjust their clocks around the start of spring. They would change them back to normal time when summer ends. This practice has its root in early societies before the invention of the modern clock. Because most societies were agrarian at the time, and farm work was majorly dependent on daylight, people would plan their day and adjust their time according the length of daylight. Where daylight extended into the night, people would adjust their clocks to accommodate the new timeline, which, in this case, will also continue well into the night.

The poem focused on the controversy surrounding daylight saving. Winston Churchill sparked the debate on daylight saving time by sensationally claiming that daylight saving time gave the American people more opportunities to pursue happiness and good health. Most farmers and entertainment spot owners opposed DST vehemently and called for its immediate abolition. After 1919, most cities in the United States rejected the DST. New York was among the few cities that continued using DST. The poem “having a mind to save the world” explores the “impossibility” that was saving a few more hours from the regular day hours but which the world achieved by introducing the Daylight Saving Time. The poem states that it is only in Indianapolis that the people refused to agree to the use of Daylight Saving Time. The city was dependent on agriculture and DST would discourage normal working hours in the farms affecting productivity.

In the poem, Howard likens the phenomenon to the biblical story of Joshua. Joshua asked God to extend daylight so that he could subdue the enemy. God responded to this request by causing the sun to stand still for a few more hours until the war was over, and Israelites emerged victorious. The poem heaps praises on the ingenuity of Daylight Saving Time, saying that nothing like it existed since it is God who extended daylight during the time of Joshua. The speaker in the poem is an omniscient narrator who experiences the events captured in the poem. We see him associate himself directly with the events in the poem by referring to himself as “we” when he says “we the Indian-givers.” From the story, we deduce that the speaker associate himself with a particular period in history.

He says, “The Republic finds itself unanimously Agreed except for Indianapolis…” The events the narrator is talking about occurred at a time in history when most states needed to adopt the Daylight Saving Time”. This period was probably when the agrarian revolution was at its peak in America. It is also a time when the southern states such as Indiana fiercely opposed the daylight saving time phenomenon. They thought it undermined agriculture and labor in general. With a grasp of the historical context of the poem, one can share the speaker’s point of view. The speaker appears excited that daylight saving time is gaining popularity but is at the same time sad that Indianapolis, his home city, has refused to join the other states in embracing it. He adopts an indifferent tone at the beginning of the poem, an indication that he cannot do much to change the situation as it is.

The poet develops an internal conflict in the poem through the words of the speaker. The poet says, “Taking Daylight hour from dawn, and giving it to evening, even if we Indian-givers later take it back.” This statement shows clearly that the poet feels there is a conflict between the rest of the republic and the inhabitants of Indianapolis. The poem revolves around many political issues associated with the use of DST in the United States in the early nineteenth century. During this period, a proposal by Willet to have the DST retained in the US system suffered a narrow defeat in parliament. Similar bills that Willet’s supporters and opponents later introduced in parliament also failed.

This poem has a unique form that departs from the conventional poetry styles common in literature. First the whole poem comprises only one stanza. The verse consists of 15 lines each of which is of different lengths. The poem also does not flow in a particular rhyme scheme since the poet does not use any rhyming words and phrases. In the poem, the poet makes careful syntactical choices that suit the message of the poem. He breaks his words before their logical conclusion. The speaker uses present tense, and sometimes present participle. The lack of clear pattern in the poem creates a mood of excitement that the poet intends.


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