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Tense

April 12, 2012

It seems the hardest of the three primary time-metaphors to grasp. Time is a river: it moves past us. Time is a road: we move along it. Time is a thread: but that is to say that we are the thread, spun by Fate; which is to say, we are time. Time isn’t there unless we are.

Tense as having tension; tense as temporal mode. I’m sure some metaphysically minded poets have done interesting things with this pun. But I’m not aware of any examples. It would have been at home, even, in the poem that lends me the “bleak-leaved boughs” subtitle, but while Hopkins has the Fates spinning, he doesn’t use the word in question here.

Or, rather, two words. Etymology of the adjective:

< Latin tens-us, past participle of tendĕre to stretch.

Etymology of the noun:

< Old French tens, 11–13th cent. (also tans, 11–16th cent.); modern French temps from 13th cent. = Provençal temps, Spanish tiempo, Portuguese tempo, Italian tempo < Latin tempus time

That we English-speakers associate tension with temporality seems a complete accident–except it’s not just “tense.” We also speak of a “span” of time, and a “stretch” (and both are at play in Hopkins’ poem). I wonder to what extent other languages associate the two? And what exactly is it to associate them?

I recently wrote a paper about holding things together in one’s mind, and just started reading Heidegger’s Being and Time, so tense is on my mind. I wonder, though, if I’m just being mislead by a quirk of the English language.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Scout permalink
    April 15, 2012 3:53 am

    misled. lol.

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  1. Redeeming the Time – Geoffrey Hill » earth's eye

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