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Allen Curnow's poem "Thoughts on Time" is in the order of a riddle, a paradoxical riddle. A riddle is a word puzzle that taxes your reasoning ability in deciphering its meaning or its answer, if posed as a question. A paradox is something that appears to be contradictory, incredible or false but is nonetheless correct, believable and true, for example C.S. Lewis's statement: "One day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again."
For an example of Curnow's paradoxes, examine the paradox in the final stanza: "Though I am here all things my coming attend." This is sorted out by recognizing that everyone and everything exists in time, were built through a duration of time, grew during a duration of time, developed during a duration of time, yet all things animate and inanimate attend to the coming of time in anticipation or in progressing dilapidation, like kids awaiting summer holidays or like crumbling pyramids.
The meaning of the stanzas are very closely related. In the first, Curnow equates time with space as in Einstein's theory of special relativity in which time and space are converted into each other. He also measures time through the markers of a "water-race" (picture water running or rain water flowing) and the accumulation of "rust on railway lines," both of which require time duration in which to occur. Finally, he equates time with usage, which are changes in space over time: "mileage recorded on yellow signs."
In the second stanza, time is similarly measured by accumulaion of "dust" and "lupins"; equated to distance within space; and equated to activity and life. In the third, Curnow equates time with unseen work or unseen forces and with overt, seen work, both of which occur in a duration of time. He also equates time with nature, leisure and emotion: "I am the place in the park where the lovers are seen." The fourth equates time with places and personal experience.
The fifth stanza introduces philosophical speculation by equating time with the infinite and infinity, then reiterating that all things thus far mentioned comprising the world of experience, including personal experience, are equated with time, thus equating time with history. He then contrasts infinite reality with human experience that sees only a minute thread in the fabric of time. He goes on to state paradoxically that time calls forth past events of time as "shapes" that were (e.g., archaeological sites; Hubble images; historic monuments and moments).
The last two stanzas blend as Curnow ends with cosmological philosophy by saying time carries the collective consciousness of humanity while time is revealed in geography, family, work and friends as everyone exists in time and everyone anticipates future time. In a Biblical allusion to the Alpha and Omega, time is ultimately equated with the beginning and the end.
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