Time Goes On (2011)

This sonnet was first published in the front matter of my novel, Lemnos. The second stanza also appears (in prose) as part of a dialogue in the text of the novel. I got the basic idea for the poem after reading a line in Robert Fagles' translation of the Oresteia, by Aeschylus. I will have to re-read the book to find the actual line again, but for now I'll just mention that it included the word play between "grinding down" and "grinding on" which appears in my poem. Although the poem complements my novel surprisingly well, I actually wrote it independently and only later incorporated it into the book.

Immortal things and gods are never dead,
but never yet improve themselves or change;
the seasons pass, the sun goes overhead,
and ever yet the gods remain the same.

But look at us, we humans, caught between
the mortar and the pestle as we must—
transforming, true, from coarse to finer things,
but in the process grinding down to dust.

But what’s immortal, after all, these days?
No, nothing lasts forever anymore.
The gods of yesterday have died away,
time’s ebb has left us on a barren shore,

and we decide, now that the gods are gone,
if we are grinding down, or grinding on.

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