Sunday, August 10, 2014

Robert Grudin: the loss of the past


"One of the most mysterious operations of time is the way in which things silently divorce themselves from us and slip into the past.   We are like people climbing out of an immensely deep valley on a trail which only occasionally allows us glimpses of the geography below or the heights above.  We turn to see, distant and small beneath us, places which only recently have constituted our total environments; we glance far down at our own beginnings as things dear but inexorably removed from us.  Other people walk with us, so close and for so long that they form a part of our identity.  When they leave us at last, we see them for the first time as separate beings, suddenly clear and whole, yet hopelessly distinct and diminishing.  Only those of us who habitually and affectionately consult the past, who see the present as the birth of the past and appreciate it as the freshness of a new vintage, can hope to mitigate the appalling sadness of these views."

-- Robert Grudin --
from Time and the Art of Living

First known when lost
I never had noticed it until
'Twas gone, --the narrow copse
Where now the woodman lops
The last of the willows with his bill.

-- Edward Thomas --

The above is the first stanza of "First known when lost," a poem by Edward Thomas.  The complete poem was posted on June 8, 2014.  It came to mind when reading Grudin's short meditation.   It is sad to think that we really don't know something until it's gone, and then only briefly for it quickly fades from memory as time passes.  And as we've been told by poet and novelist and philosopher, we can never go back, for it is gone forever.  


  1. Di,

    That probably says it all.

  2. Of course, if you were stranded with Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon, neither the present nor the future offer much hope of improvement upon the past. So, as Di says, "*sigh*" -- but perhaps we must simply go on even if we feel as though we cannot go on. Hang in there all you Vladimirs and Estragons! Hang in there!

  3. RT,

    Don't they hope that Godot will arrive?

    I'm reading Jack London's _The Sea-Wolf_. In it, Capt. Wolf Larson says that we are born, we live, we die. There is no afterlife. We go on because we are alive and that's what life is--going on.

  4. Didi and Gogo seem hopeful -- or do they? They are, perhaps, simply resigned to the ups and downs of life. Yeah, perhaps Godot will come, but they cannot count on that, so they figure out how to live their lives in the meantime (or without him). What does all of that mean beyond the abstract? I guess that is up to each audience member. I think Beckett was being intentionally ambiguous. Hell, he couldn't figure out what life was all about (which he would admit), so he wasn't offering any prescriptive revelation to anyone. He was instead offering provocation.

  5. RT,

    No, Beckett doesn't offer any dogma to his followers. Or, if there is a dogmatic statement, it is that there is no answer.