Re-read an old favourite poem, Killing Time by Simon Armitage. This long poem published at the turn of the last millennium remains more relevant than ever in 2021. One wonders if Armitage was making a prediction on how the media would take over the minds of people, the way Ray Bradbury foresaw changes to the world in his novel Fahrenheit 451.
Revisiting some thoughts I had in 2015 when I studied it for the first time for a poetry class.
This is one of those long poems that compel the reader to stay on the page, from the first line to the thousandth, in a whirlwind journey through images of time as it has evolved through a millennium. The poem starts by introducing a freak monkey shaped life-form that has evolved from technology and has a voracious appetite for the news. From there, it turns a panoramic eye on the world as it stood at the end of the twentieth century, making observations on political conditions, war and peace, consumerist culture, the environment and humanity, exploring the nature of time and the meaning of truth through current events of the period as well the many dimensions of civilisation.
Time is explored through metaphors, such as a reality show trying to recreate how civilisation adapted and evolved, two boys who distribute flowers in their school (a chilling reference to the Columbine high school shootings) and two men observing the world below from a hot air balloon.
Universal truths come through from between the sharp images and the intrinsic rhymes, of how water holds memory that can restore history and conjure up ‘whatever is unseen and unsung (Killing Time, 31)’. Also how one day to the Universal Spirit is as thousand years, and thousand years as one day. And how while millions partied in a frenzy on the millennium’s eve, a million people and more kept away with the awareness that this was but a fictional time and date far removed from the world’s real pulse.
Twenty-two years after it was written, Killing Time remains more relevant than ever, in a world where everything has a price and few things have real value anymore, where cameras and microphones work 24 x 7 in every nook and cranny manufacturing news, and the time that one can hold in the moment, in life as well as in between the lines of poems such as these, seem to be the only time that really matters.
The Indian New Year falls between 22 and 25th March every year as per the ancient Vikram Samwat calendar, and several states in Bharat celebrate the new year in mid-April. Taking a closer look at the etymology of the English months: September, October, November and December (Sapta, Ashta, Nava and Dasha in Sanskrit which translate to Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten), it makes sense why the calendars of the ancient world decreed the new year to start in March-April, in the spring.
But what do clocks and calendars matter when all one has is this moment? Time is the biggest illusion and the new year, whenever one observes it, seems a good time as any other to remind oneself about this.