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The power of psychological time in poetry Essay

Poetry is always connected to various time representations. Poets replace real time with different psychological visions and ideas of past or future events. We frequently find ourselves in a situation, when we cannot completely understand the time implications of a specific poem. Thomas Hardy and T. S. Eliot were well known for their poetic skills in representing various dimensions of time. In their works, time has become a symbol, and their “instinctive mode as writers was figurative, not analytic; their most habitual method was symbolism, not argument.

” In Hardy’s “Wessex Heights”, and Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”, time acquires new meaning. It is no longer the clock measurement of our actions; it is a psychological dimension which creates the virtual space in which we live. Our memories signify the power of psychological time; in their poems, Eliot and Hardy underline the significance and power of psychological time and oppose it to the clock or seasonal time, under the impact of which we traditionally live. “Wessex Heights” and Hardy’s meaning of psychological time

Hardy’s “Wessex Heights” is invariably linked to the way Hardy interprets the meaning of philosophical and psychological notions of time and space. Evidently, temporal subject is central to “Wessex Heights”, and the poet creates a conjunction of numerous elements, which ultimately form what we call “psychological time”. There are some heights in Wessex, shaped as if by a kindly hand For thinking, dreaming, dying on, and at crises when I stand, Say, on Ingpen Beacon eastward, or on Wylls-Neck westwardly,

I seem where I was before my birth, and after death may be. (Hardy 1989, 23). This trope becomes the beginning of a reader’s journey to Hardy’s representation of psychological time and the continuity of human emotions. It is not surprising that the poet uses the exact geographical names, and seems to determine the exact geographical location for the reader. This “geographical” character of the poem is initially deceptive. Moreover, Hardy uses these names to oppose the reality to psychology of time, and geography serves the instrument of such opposition.

“It is not surprising that “Wessex Heights” uses the title of a specific locality only to emphasise dislocation, moving the speaker in and out of abstracted spaces that have, as it turns out, little connection to physical place. ” The first stanza actually becomes the start of the reader’s journey into the depth of Hardy’s psychological time. The dislocation, about which Richards writes, is one of the most prominent characteristics to emphasise the power of psychological time, which makes memories and feelings eternal. The first stanza smoothly moves the reader into the clearer representations of the psychological time.

It seems that the poet was preparing us to what we would later see after we move to virtual lowlands: “Down there I seem to be false to myself, my simple self that was, / And is not now, and I see him watching, wondering what crass cause / Can have merged him into such a strange continuator s this…” The reader seems to appear in the center of an action, where the past plays with the present, and where one sees one’s self as a separate being. Hardy evidently opposes reality of time to its psychology, underlining the effects which psychological time may cause on a person.

In order to strengthen the effect, Hardy presents the second stanza in a more structured metrical form than the first one. As a result, “the past self, the chrysalis, encloses the present subject in the same paradoxical way that rhyme enfolds Hardy’s chaotic language, so that these structures play against other as the poem progresses. ” Hardy uses the notion of locality, and exact geographical names to emphasise the mixture of the geographical and the aesthetical. In his work, geography loses its meaning when the poet speaks about ghosts in the third stanza: “There is a ghost at Yell’ham Bottom chiding loud at the fall of the night.

” The ghosts represent the circulation of the psychological time. In distinction from the real clock or seasonal time, in psychological time a person has an opportunity to return to the past memories. In this aspect psychological time is evidently stronger than the real one. As the reader retreats from these ghosts in the first stanza, he meets them again in the third passage; “the conventional ghosts of the lowlands repeat their presence in a form that revises their past forms.

This repetition constitutes human temporality in a particular way: time is movement toward a future which will be, but never yet is, the perfected assumption of the past. ” The psychological time, in which the reader appears when reading “Wessex Heights” creates favourable conditions for separating the self and analyzing it through the prism of the past events. In Hardy’s vision, this separation and the absence of a psychological line between the past and the present creates an incredible emotional atmosphere, in which any person can find a key to oneself. “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”: Eliot and Bergson

The first impression from reading Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” is in that the poet creates a kind of “coherent imaginative vision of time. ” Eliot has brilliantly incorporated Bergson’s understanding of time into his poetic work . As with Hardy’s “Wessex Heights”, Eliot underlines the impossibility to measure time in traditional clock or seasonal terms. The poet clearly keeps to the idea of time being more psychological than seasonal. As a result, the reader acquires additional opportunities to return to the past, and to analyze the future actions through the prism of the past events.

The major difference between “Wessex Heights” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” is in that Hardy creates a vision of unlimited time through the use of geographical names and localities. In his turn, Eliot emphasises the opposition between the clock time and psychological time. His poem takes the reader away from traditional clock measurements which do not give any space for the analysis of the self and the continuity of time: Twelve o’clock. Along the reaches of the street Held in a lunar synthesis, Whispering lunar incantations Dissolve the floors of memory And all its clear relations Its divisions and precisions,

Every street lamp that I pass Beats like a fatalistic drum… (Eliot 1991, 16) Eliot starts each stanza in a similar way: the passing of the clock time symbolises its irrelevance and insignificance towards the relations, divisions, and precisions of the psychological time. It is not a secret, that Eliot’s creative work was dramatically influenced by the works of Henri Bergson in terms of time concept. In his works, Bergson distinguished the two different types of time: real and mathematical. In Bergson’s view, real time was indivisible and continuous, while mathematical time could be measured.

In Eliot’s poem, the reader faces the challenge of distinguishing real time from mathematical time measurements. Real time in Eliot’s view stands in the form of indivisible psychological continuum, which is broken by mathematical measurements in the form of clock time at certain regular intervals. There is a persistent impression that Eliot’s “Rhapsody…” continues the logical time line of Hardy’s “Wessex Heights” by mixing past with present, and recognising the insignificance of “mathematical” measurable time: “The past exists in the present, which contains the future.

The concrete and ever present instance of duration is life, for each of us living in his own time. ” Eliot speaks about memories, which do not change with time. He speaks of time as psychological notion, which cannot be measured. “Half-past three. / The lamp sputtered, / The lamp muttered in the dark. / The lamp hummed: / “Regard the moon…” The moon, and not the clock is the sign of the reality of time, but even the moon can lose memory: “The moon has lost her memory. ” Through the whole poem, Eliot seems to seek the means of time measurability: he tries to use lamps, moon, and clock to divide his time into separate passages.

Yet, these measures only confirm the continuity of psychological time, and the continuity of memories which actually constitute this psychological time. In his “Rhapsody…”, Eliot “adds the influence of time and its inescapable nature. Memory and the past bring into focus relationships and lack of personal fulfillment. ” As psychological time cannot be measured, it serves a measure in itself: the measure of Eliot’s passion, emotiveness, and the memory which is the key to eternity. Conclusion Poetry is inherently separated from any traditional measurements of time.

In their works, Hardy and Eliot were trying to create a border between the clock (seasonal) and psychological time. Both were striving to mix past with future, and to show the futility of traditional time measurements against the power of memories and psychological time. Both have incorporated either geographical names or traditional measures of time to emphasise their irrelevance towards people’s emotions. Bergson says that “reality has extension as well as duration. However, space is not a void or vacuum which is filled by reality. Things are not in space, space is in things.

” As a result, psychological time is not an objective reality: it is extremely subjective and stems from the personal memories and interpretations. Subjective notions cannot be measured, and both poets were trying to deliver this essence to the reader. Ultimately, after reading the two poems, the reader finds oneself in a new environment, which breaks traditional limits of time and produces a completely new vision of the self.


Bergson, H. The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics. New York: Kensington Publishing Group, 1946. Eliot, T. S. “Rhapsody on a Windy Night. ” In Collected Poems, 1909-1962, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991, p. 16. Hardy, Thomas. “Wessex Heights. ” In Thomas Hardy: Wessex Heights, ed. N. Philip, London: Bloomsbury Pub Ltd, 1989. , p. 23. Maxwell, D. E. S. The Poetry of T. S. Eliot. Routledge & Kegan, 1960. Richards, J. “The History of Error: Hardy’s Critics and the Self Unseen. ” Victorian Poetry 45 (2007): 24-29. Siebenschuh, William R. “Hardy and the Imagery of Place. ” Studies in English Literature 39 (1999): 101-103. Thomson, E. T. S. Eliot: The Metaphysical Perspective. Southern Illinois University Press, 1963.

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