In his short and playful poem titled “The Mouse Whose Name Is Time,” Robert Francis compares time to a mouse that secretly and silently nibbles away on various objects in the same way that time itself nibbles away on such things as days, nights, seasons, and years.
The comparison of time to a mouse seems both appropriate and ironic in various ways. The comparison seems appropriate because we don’t often notice the passage of time until a unit of time is gone. The passage of time seems as natural as a mouse nibbling, yet a mouse that nibbles long enough on anything can cause significant loss. We don’t normally feel greatly threatened by a mouse, yet a mouse, left to its own devices, can do a great deal of damage. The passage of time, then, is like a nibbling mouse because both go largely unnoticed until their effects are hard to ignore.
The comparison of time to a mouse can seem, ironic, however, because while a nibbling mouse can be stopped (as with a trap), the effects of time are relentless and irreversible. Damage done by a real mouse can be fixed; damage done by time cannot be repaired. A single mouse may affect one person; time affects everyone and everything. Even at its worse, a nibbling mouse is unlikely to cause death, but the passage of time inevitably leads to death for any particular living thing.
This, indeed, seems the significance of the fourth and final stanza of the poem, which sums up the ultimate impact of time as a mouse by saying,
And whence or how he comes
And how or where he goes
Nobody now remembers,
Nobody living knows.
Any individual mouse will itself eventually die, but the mouse of time continues nibbling away at everything forever. We have some control over a real mouse, but we have no control at all over the mouse of time. Nobody – living or dead – defeats the mouse of time (unless, of course, one accepts he idea of life after death).