The Eternal Possesses Time

As in the poem ‘All the Time in the World
the nature of an eternal ‘Other’
that pervades space and time,
cannot be defined in spacetime words,
though they are all we have.

Something other than time and dimension,
pervading space and time
but independent of them,
needs words outside our range.

So how can we talk or think about it?

We do not use language as much as we think.
Multilingual people are sometimes asked,
‘What language do you think in?’

Their answer is often delayed;
rolling language thoughts around,
they usually give an answer
set in the terms of the question.

But many thoughts do not use language
though we may not notice it:
sunlight through leaves, the flight of birds,
fatigue, frustration, longing,
the body language of a friend,
and expressions on a face,
do not need words.

When we communicate with others
our words have personal qualities,
‘qualia’, arising from our past life.
A mountain, a falling leaf, a knife,
each have qualities which differ
from one person to another.
No two people have the same past,
the same experience of any thing.
Your words, my words, have different qualia,
different emotional tones.
You hear my words,
spoken out of my past
and interpret them out of yours.

I heard of an itinerent priest
who preached in town and village churches
when local vicars were away.
It could be several churches on one day.
He joked about breaking the speed limit.
Those listening –  drivers, non-drivers,
who had known or not known past accidents –
would have different thoughts about speeding cars,
different qualia,
different reactions.

But we can understand in some degree
the qualia of those different groups
by extension of our own.
Our own qualia can be enlarged
by poetry, story, music,
by the emotions of others,
or our ideas of what they might be.

Physics, mathematics or words of spacetime
cannot define or describe the Other,
but emotions give a feel for it.
Physics, mathematics and words
do this when they stir emotions.
Some find beauty in a formula that others find in music.

That feeling of beauty,
rather than formula,
rather than musical notes,
is close,
perhaps as close as we can come,
to the language of the eternal.

The word eternal, ae-ternus,
simply means lasting an age,
an infinite extension of time,
but emotions tell us it is more than this,
something more than the word,
more than mere length of time.

The Eternal possesses time.



On a clear still morning beside a pond
with clouds and trees mirrored in its face,
and rushes, and a lonely fishing place,
I watched a single dewdrop fall.

It fell from a leaf tip, back into its element
like a tiny buddhist soul.

Lost, I thought, lost in its destiny,
one with its own infinity
and all is still again.

And yet the surface trembled with its ring,
spreading, shimmering the clouds, the leaves,
the rushes and the fishing place;
spreading, reaching for the farthest shore.

And was it felt in the darker depths?
and echoed in that tiny ‘plop’ in my ear?
and in the air, and in the woods,
spreading forever to the farthest star,
seeing eternity
through the eyes of God?

Hazelnut Forest revisited

In March I wrote a puzzle poem Hazelnut Forest, its title an equation,
λ = 2πħ/p
so here is, as I said would be, the promised explanation.

The forest is the universe when the Word made all things new,
and the Spirit found the first conditions good and proving true.
Its leaves, the smallest particles of which the world is made,
the calling birds swift flying in the dappled light and shade,
are photons that were called to be when light was first displayed.

Its title is a formula, a particle’s waveform,
for everything is energy,
and particles just seem to be
the focus of a mystery,
the fine eye of the storm.

Another poem followed that wondered at the size
of the forest (or the world) as seen by wiser eyes.

How small the forest? We really cannot see.
We cannot give position, speed, time or volition;
to what is all around us, a truly strange admission.
As size get small and smaller, in the atoms heart and less,
in proton, quark or photon, and spacetime’s emptiness,
there is a finite limit bound in uncertainty.
How small is the forest? It’s just too small to see,
for in that finite limit is all infinity.

Men like Werner Heisenberg,
Max Planck and de Broglie,
worked out the math, and many more
have worked at detail and for sure,
where you and I give up and snore,
they plucked cherries from the tree.

A Circle With a Volume, I recall,
the last and strangest poem of them all,
came from Planck’s discovery
that length, like time, just cannot be reduced
infinitesimally small.
No matter what dimensions that we tell,
the smallest there can be, that we call Planck’s Length, L,
gives structure to the rest. There is no spell
that lets us cut fine finer till there’s nothing there at all.

The smallest, fundamental space,
the smallest, fundamental time,
are bound with that uncertainty
that binds the forest leaves.

Centre to edge is less than width,
the wheel’s centre to its rim,
your nose to your ear,
less than the wheel’s width,
less than ear to ear.

But the width of a fundamental
is the smallest distance possible .
Where can its centre be?
How far from its edge?

W. B. Yeats’ troubled poem The Second Coming that I quoted in this poem sums the uncertainty and the resulting fragility astonishingly aptly:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

From the inbuilt uncertainty of this fundamental seed, spacetime burst in an instant, followed by an immense expansion phase.
From fundamental to universal in microseconds.

This volume, this conundrum,
too veiled for us to see,
a mystery its diameter,
its radius an enigma,
the Sybil of Cumae,
time in eternity.

Ah! The Sybil of Cumae! Who was she?
Tis said she asked Apollo, who wanted her to wife,
that she might have, though mortal, as many years of life
as the grains of sand held in her hand.

False promises were made and when her wish was gained
her favours were withdrawn – Apollo raged.
Trapped through the years, her body aged;
kept shrinking in a jar ’til just her voice remained.

And why a hazelnut forest? In the mid-fourteenth century, following a vision, Dame Julian of Norwich compared all creation to a hazelnut held in God’s hand.
Such a tiny thing, encompassing all creation, shown her by God in a series of visions in which she saw the depth and greatness of His love for all mankind.

Hazelnut Forest

This perhaps should come with the warning, ‘Let the reader who can, understand.’
(Why a hazelnut forest? LHC? Who was the Sybil of Cumae?)

Small clues: LHC is the Large Hadron Collider, the largest machine ever built on Earth (27 kilometres across) with which many new particles, some expected, some not, have been discovered. Other clues are hidden in the tags, but not in the correct order (WordPress shifts them into alphabetical order).

Some time in April (I promise!) I shall write an explanation. I also promise (don’t look at my crossed fingers) that the explanation will not itself need explaining.

λ = 2πħ/p

How small is the forest?
How tiny its leaves?
Where the pattern of branches
tosses and weaves;
and the canopy sways,
and the summer winds moan,
until shortening days
say summer is gone.

Halfway in the forest
its deepest heart;
where calling birds fly
to its farthest part,
and the leaves’ rustling sigh
gives place to the sky,
and the height of the trees,
and the birds’ flying free,
and the tiniest leaves,
are the forest to me.

How Small is The Forest?

How far is it from constancy
to Heisenberg’s uncertainty?
A tiny length defines
a volume that we find:
the smallest we can know.
A fundamental distance
that we call Planck’s length (L)
shows there is a thickness
we cannot go below.

A circle has a volume just like a carousel
the volume of a circle is pi times r squared L,
(by this we come to see
there is no ‘true’ 2D
and a circle without volume,
is an anomaly).

A Circle With a Volume

This volume hides a mystery.
How small can it be?
How can it be measured,
a space too small to see
by eye or LHC?

The smallest space we cannot see:
the rings inside, the rings inside,
the rings inside a tree,
is found from four-thirds pi
times its depth to power of three.

This volume, this conundrum,
too veiled for us to see,
a mystery its diameter,
its radius an enigma,
the Sybil of Cumae,
time in eternity.

Radius is half of width,
we know that very well
but half a fundamental
is a word we cannot spell.
Diameter equals radius,
it flickers to and fro,
in the tiniest of instants,
the shortest we can know.

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.
Fission and expansion, a cosmos to unfold.

A whole that ever seeks
the shimmer and the chime,
Infinite from finite
in the infinite-finite rhyme:
the Word that ever speaks
at the birth and death of time.

All the Time in the World


Concerning time we tend to ask,
(though feeling slightly foolish)
‘If time began with the Big Bang,
what happened before then?’
before when there was no before,
when there was not a when,

a question in a circle,
a circle in a round
when never was was never found
nor ever was again.

We are growing old together,
we two, the world and I.
and we often talk together
as I lie in the heather
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

‘If time began with the Big Bang,
there must be something other.’

We both were born so very young,
we two, the world and I,
when time was nothing to be found,
except we heard a bugle sound
to live or die.

In these purple heather flowers
the minutes turn to hours
and the passing of the clouds
is passing time.

Concerning space we tend to ask
(though feeling slightly foolish)
‘If space began with the Big Bang,
with what beyond did it compare?
beyond where there is no beyond,
where there is not a where?

a question in a circle,
a circle in a round
where nothing there is ever found
nor ever will be there.

We are growing old together,
we two, the world and I.
and we often talk together
as I lie in the heather
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

‘If space began with the Big Bang,
there must be something other.’

We both were born so very small,
we two, the world and I,
when there was nothing else at all,
except we heard a bugle call
to live or die.

In these purple heather flowers
the sky and space are ours
and the passing of the clouds
is far away.

Spacetime began with the Big Bang,
with no before or any where.
There must be something other.
Other than the world and I,
Other than the clouds and sky,
Other than the words we choose,
Other than the facts we use,
Other in the most extreme,
Other than all other.

Could that Other that is other
than this universe be nothing?
No time? No space? No thing?
A song we cannot sing?

We cannot think of nothing,
but we think of nothing less,
a void, an emptiness.
An emptiness in what?
So we look for something else,
for something Other.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I.
and we talk again together
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

In the heather banks of spacetime,
in the flower bells of space,
tiny quanta flicker and tiny quanta chase,
ghosts of Might and Might Not,
ethereal as lace.

We two, the world and I, are lost in idle chatter.
Matter in our cosmos has mirrored anti-matter.
Is the Other anti-universe?
The Other in the Looking Glass,
converse of our own converse?
Has it mind? And does it matter?

Matter and anti-matter
annihilate each other,
What would become of spacetime?
No more us and no more Other?
No-thing, no where, no when,
questions in a circle, circles in a round,
where never was was never found,
nor ever was again.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I,
and we talk again together
and ponder altogether
just what it is to die.

We cannot think of nothing,
but we think of nothing less,
we look in an abyss, into an emptiness.
Asking emptiness in what?
always wanting something else,
something Other.

We two, the world and I,
have much to take and give.
We two were born a single kind
The world is home for humankind.
It is our home, we are its mind
we much search and we must find
just what it is to live.

We’re conscious here, why not the Other?
Years of searching, years of dreams,
for others here found nothing more.
Are we rarer than it seems?
Are we alone?

Mitochondrial DNA
has one root through all the Earth.
Cells of mosses and of trees,
spiders, antelopes and fleas,
the lion and the lamb, all these,
the fossil and the newborn babe
are each other’s families.

Only once was life’s seed sown,
in this dear Earth we call our own.
Once in this land and all its seas,
once in four-plus billion years,
with so slim chance are we alone?

We two, the world and I,
have much to give and take.
we lie and talk together
and still we wonder whether
If conscious mind is scarce to find,
what chance is there in Other?
Does it know? Is it awake?

Here the chance of consciousness
is cut by the click and chime,
of fourteen billion years or less,
but Other has all time.

Infinite is far without end.
Eternal, an ageless when.
If far is as far as the dice are cast,
and an age is as long as spacetime lasts,
and when all time and space is past,
the Other is beyond then.

More than ‘eternal’ and ‘infinite’,
Unbound by time and space
pervading here and now,
in every time and place,
distance, seconds, years, alike,
our world is a treasured seed
Other has all the room in the world,
Other has all the time it needs
to nurture and to weed.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I.
and we talk again together
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.
And the sheep go grazing yonder,
while the world and I still ponder
how the bush that flamed with wonder
could speak in tones of thunder,

‘I AM what I AM.’

The Owner of Time

Many years ago, struggling to finish some apparently urgent job before lunchtime, and with some other apparently equally urgent thing to do during the break, I found myself flustered and pressed for time, cursing every snag and delay.

Then a strange thing happened.

A small voice whispered, not in my ear but in my mind, ‘Calm down. I own time. I made it and I own it.’

The job entailed fixing something, I don’t know what, to a wall or a desk. The screws would not turn, their heads were burred, nothing aligned. I had tried all the usual cuss words, slamming things down, blaming other things for being out of reach or just not being where I had only just put them…

… ‘So,’ I said, whether out loud or in my head, I don’t remember, ‘then why is it taking so long? My wrists and fingers ache, and my chance of getting across town to the lab and back is getting close to nil.’

Suddenly the last screw – it’s always the last one –gave a little jump sideways. The screwdriver went one way, the screw several feet the other. I had already used up my supply of magic words, none of which will bear repeating here. I simply stared after it, paused and trudged to pick it up. At the next try it went in like a dream. Job done. I looked at my watch. Five minutes to lunchtime, not umpteen past as I had expected, just time enough to pack up and set off.

‘O.K.’ I said, ‘If you own time I’ll take you at your word.’

I took off my watch and set off for the lab, nearly half an hour’s walk away across Cambridge, where Ian Manick and David Beale produced rigid contact lenses in what would later become Contact Lens Precision Laboratories. My first afternoon patient was booked for two o’clock. I don’t remember now, but the most likely reason for the trip was for lenses for that appointment.

When I first took the position at Haldyn Clamp’s contact lens practice in Bridge Street near St John’s College, Ian and David were restricted in one small kitchen at the back. They soon outgrew this and were now a mile or so away in much better premises in Fitzroy Street. Hence my trip. Cambridge does not have easy, cross-city car or bus routes so I had to walk.

The weather was fine, the distance was the problem. Nevertheless, having discarded my watch I avoided looking at any clocks on the way. Time was passing but I told myself it was not mine; I was trusting the owner.

I enjoyed the walk, determinedly at first but gradually easier and easier. The weather was certainly good and the sun pleasantly warm. I found I was no longer saying, ‘If you own time I will take your word.’ The if had gone. It was going to be alright.

I went by Midsummer Common, a longer route but pleasant. It was not as late as I had feared and I felt increasingly, though still a tad wilfully, that time was not in my hands. I strolled in the sun.

Eventually I arrived at the lab.



The lenses were not ready. Heads shook ruefully, reasons were given, promises – no – hopes were expressed.

‘Later this afternoon?’ No, too late.

‘Why not go into the Grafton Centre and have some lunch? Perhaps…’

Suddenly, greatly missing my watch but determined not to ask the time, I felt very hungry. The Grafton Centre was just minutes away and soon I was going up in a lift to an unusual restaurant that only sold starters. Nowadays we might call it tapas. Because of the time involved I told myself to only order one, but there were several voices competing now: one telling me what a fool I was being; another, my stomach, telling me I was far too hungry for just one starter, and anyway I would arrive back at the lab too soon; another saying, ‘Just go back to the practice and make your excuses.’ And a quiet one persisting, ‘Time is mine, leave it to me.’

Fortunately none of them made any difference to the direction the lift was going and shortly I found myself at a white-cloth table with three assorted starters and a small glass of wine, with nothing to be gained from hurrying.

In case you think there was an obvious thing I should have done, this was in the nineteen-sixties, long before the invention of mobile phones.

Meal over, wine finished, lift down and a short walk to the lab where there was a phone. The lenses were still being edged.

I asked to use the phone and as I dialled the whisper cautioned, ‘No need, no hurry, time is mine.’

I hung up. The lenses were having a final polish and in a few minutes I was on my way. I did not take the walk back across Midsummer Common, that seemed too much of a liberty, but I still did not hurry. I gave in to the whisper and walked steadily back along Maid’s Causeway and Jesus Lane, passing Jesus College and the back of Sydney Sussex. Eventually I passed the Round Church and back to the practice in Bridge Street. As I approached there was a large clock over the jewellers before it which I refused to look at, went in the practice door, into my consulting room, picked up my watch and put it on my wrist. A minute or so later I heard the patient arrive.

I looked at my watch, checking it for the first time. Two o’clock. He was spot on.

I do not remember if the lenses were for him or a later patient but the sense that there was something other than time, something personal that owns time, has grown with me over the years.

Eternity is far more than endless time.

The Eternal possesses time.