The Marginalian
The Marginalian

How to Befriend Time: The Gospel of Pete Seeger and Nina Simone

“Whatever has happened, whatever is going to happen,” the poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “it is the living moment that contains the sum of the excitement, this moment in which we touch life and all the energy of the past and future.” A generation after her, Henry Miller placed at the heart of the art of living the fact that “on how one orients himself to the moment depends the failure or fruitfulness of it.”

We know this. We know that we are creatures of time, that the arrow of time pins us to our own finitude, that time is change and change is entropy and without entropy there would be no being. Still, the deepest part of us — the part that yearns for permanence against all reason — cannot accept living in this lending library for loss, cannot but be unsettled by each birthday, each Monday, each turn of seasons.

Discus chronologicus — a German depiction of time from the early 1720s, included in Cartographies of Time. (Available as a print and as a wall clock.)

And yet inner peace — that crucible of happiness — is largely a matter of the peace we make with the passage of time.

That is what Pete Seeger knew when he adapted, nearly verbatim, a passage from the Hebrew Bible — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 — into the classic 1959 song “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season).” And that is what Nina Simone, who thought deeply about time, knew when she sang her soul into Seeger’s song in what remains one of the most breathtaking covers of all time:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain that which is to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time of love, and a time of hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Complement with Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Hymn to Time” and Kahlil Gibran on befriending time, then revisit 200 years of great writers reckoning with the mystery of it all.

Published September 21, 2023




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