“Clepsydra” is really a meditation on how time feels as it is passing.
John Ashbery’s poem, Clepsydra, begins with the phrase “Hasn’t the sky?” The question, opening out to anywhere, lured me into the poem.
Clepsydra is the Greek word for water clock. John Steinbeck used it also, to describe the action of the tides: "Time is more complex near the sea than in any other place, for in addition to the circling of the sun and the turning of the seasons, the waves beat out the passage of time on the rocks and the tides rise and fall as a great clepsydra."
Hasn’t the sky? Returned from moving the other
Authority recently dropped, wrested as much of
That severe sunshine as you need now on the way
You go. . . .
I don’t know whether I agree with Steinbeck that “time is more complex near the sea than in any other place,” but at water’s edge in Spruce Head, Maine, time is definitely marked by the tides.
guillemots and eiders when the tide was up; a myriad of gulls when the tide was out. We watched the tides from our windows, or from outdoors, if the weather was fine.
. . . But the condition
Of those moments of timeless elasticity and blindness
Was being joined secretly so
That their paths would cross again and be separated
A full moon was on the way. The tide pulled out so far it beached the rowboat near our dock. Bladderwrack drooped on exposed rocks. Hours later, the rowboat was again afloat and kayakers took to the water.
“Hasn’t the sky?” A good question for the Maine coast, with its changeable weather. We arrived to clear blue skies, then watched a bank of fog roll toward us, bleeding color from the day.
Too close to be legible, sprouting erasures, except that they
Ended everything in the transparent sphere of what was
Intended only a moment ago, spiraling further out, its
Gesture finally dissolving in the weather.
Into the bargain, we discovered fine lobster tacos at a dockside shack.
a hill covered with blueberries, with views from the hilltop in all directions.
The farm stands were awash in blueberries, available for a pittance by the quart.
One rainy day, we went into the little town of Rockland to the art museum and galleries; on another, we did nothing at all. We put our feet up, books in hand, and between-times watched the tides.
Why shouldn’t all climate and all music be equal
Without growing? There should be an invariable balance of
Contentment to hold everything in place . . .
We could have told time by the tides, if we’d wanted. But we didn’t. That’s what a vacation is: we felt time pass, but didn’t mark it. We let it flow through us, like the tides.
. . . and you
Must wear them like clothing, moving in the shadow of
Your single and twin existence, waking in intact
Appreciation of it, while morning is still and before the body
Is changed by the faces of evening.
Credits: The Ashbery quotation at the head of the post is from “How to Be a Difficult Poet,” Richard Kostelanetz (article and interview with John Ashbery), New York Times Magazine, May 23, 1976. The Steinbeck quotation is from Tortilla Flat. The remaining quotations are from Ashbery’s poem Clepsydra.
All photographs were taken by the author. The photograph at the head of the post is of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. The remainder of the photographs were taken at Spruce Head, except for those of the schooner and the osprey, which were taken on Penobscot Bay. (As for all photographs on PD, click on them for a larger view.)