Out of Time / In Place


Of Time and the River: Life Lived, Life Dying

To truly sense things of the moment is to sense their eternity.  On Friday of A Week, we are given the good news that “We need pray for no higher heaven than the pure senses can furnish . . .”  “May we not see God?”   Through the senses, past, future and the eternal saturate things of the moment.  In “Concord River,” after giving us muskrats swimming for dear life, and noting that “the end of the world is not quite at hand,” Thoreau writes of the divine, 

 As yesterday and the historical ages are past, as the work of to-day is present, so some flitting perspectives and demi-experiences of the life that is in nature are in time veritably future, or rather outside to time, perennial, young, divine, in the wind and rain which never die.

His prelude to A Week ends with a meditation on the river’s amble through time, carrying in her easy gait life lived and life dying:

I had often stood on the banks of the Concord, watching the lapse of the current, an emblem of all progress, following the same law with the system, with time, and all that is made; the weeds at the bottom gently bending down the stream, shaken by the watery wind, still planted where their seeds had sunk, but ere long to die and go down likewise.

Last words — “ere long to die and go down likewise.”  These close out his thoughts on moving forward. But the river in flow, that would-be emblem of progress, slows to a stop well short of tragedy.  Paradoxically, speaking of inescapable death occurs in tones that resonate as a ringing affirmation of all life.

 There is death.  But Thoreau also takes a vantage “outside to time, perennial, young, divine.”  Flow is anomalously in ‘the ephemeral here and now’ and also in ‘the lastingly out-of-time.’  In the last words of “Concord River,” Thoreau turns to the singular, the particular, as the portal to meaning in time.  He yields himself up to the river, ready to be carried downstream and elsewhere, in serene being with time.

the shining pebbles, not yet anxious to better their condition, the chips and weeds, and occasional logs and stems of trees that floated past, fulfilling their fate, were objects of singular interest to me, and at last I resolved to launch myself on its bosom and float whither it would bear me.

                                                                                        [from an essay near the top of my files]

8 comments on “Out of Time / In Place

  1. dmf says:

    I heard him that one night in Cincinnati.

    The concert hall, 1960, the same day

    Kennedy flew into town in perfect sunlight

    and rode the route that took him

    through the crowds of voters and nonvoters

    who alike seemed to want to climb

    into the armored convertible.

    Gould did not so much play as address

    the piano from a height of inches,

    as if he were trying to slow the music

    by holding each note separately.

    Later he would say he was tired

    of making public appearances,

    the repetition of performing the Variations

    was killing him. But that night

    Bach felt like a discovery, whose repetitions

    Gould had practiced in such privacy

    as to bring them into being for the first time.

    This was the fall, October, when Ohio,

    like almost every other part of the country,

    is beginning to be mortally beautiful,

    the great old hardwoods letting go

    their various scarlet, yellow,

    and leopard-spotted leaves one by one.

    “Glenn Gould” by Stanley Plumly

  2. lfmower says:

    I’m curious to see where you go with this. Time is perhaps the only organizing theme of “A Week” and it is clearly meant to keep the tragic at arm’s length. The concern with past, present, and future (and as you point out the “outside” of these in addition) is clearly wrapped up with an investment in distancing pain and tragedy, and trying to account for them. Yet Thoreau’s interest in being fully in the present is at odds with his attempt at memorializing, and with memory more generally. (You’ve sent me scurrying back to the myriad notes I have stacked up on this!)

    • dmf says:

      I can see how trying to gain distance/perspective may be in at least momentary tension with desiring to be present, but not how memory in general can be divorced from experience.

    • efmooney says:

      Off the cuff, you have me wondering how narrow the present is. If the past and future are brought into the present — say as we see a friend and are ‘fully present’ greeting her — yet she carries a penumbra of her past and our future with her into that full present? That’s ‘present-plus,’ right? And might be compatible with a memorializing conversation with her (if it didn’t drag on and on).

  3. dmf says:


    I seek a permanent home, but this structure has an appearance of indifferent compoundedness and isolation, heading toward hopelessness.

    The boy pulls an animal on a leash.

    The house with a red roof rests between two hills.

    I can look through its windows to the sea.

    His aggression opposes what in a domestic animal, cold open space, large enough to work with isolation?

    House is the projection, space around it intermediary, theater.

    You don’t have to consume the space to exist, distance, point-to-point, in which a beloved ruin is middle ground, for example.


    First house and space negate one another.

    Then, they’re a series.

    The boy watches a mouse run around the rim of a lampshade.

    He relates wanting to catch a mouse with the room, ground.

    Wanting a master image obscures ground, like objects in space.

    House and space are composite, like my dream, a bubble, lightning, starting point and any second place.


    Rain pours out a gutter onto the poor horse.

    Horse runs under a tin roof supported by poles.

    Stockpiles of beams, salvaged wood, brick melt into contextless waste.

    I understand the situation by perceiving parts, one after another, then reversing in a glance that removes time.

    So, I can intuit contextless waste as ground.


    The water tank sits on a frame of used wood, like a packing crate.

    I look through it to an extinct volcano.

    The panorama is true figuratively as space, and literally in a glass wall, where clouds appear like flowers, and the back-lit silhouette of a horse passes by.

    A file of evergreens secures the cliff amid debris from a crew bilding, as at the edge of the sea.

    Oranges, dumplings, boiled eggs take on the opaque energy of a stranger.

    Knowledge as lintel, bond beam (model signs) holds the world at a distance.

    A master image like bone condenses from the indistinct point-to-point feeling of self with which construction began.

    My house returns from outside, as if my spirit had been blocking my path, when I wasn’t going anywhere in particular.


    Materials and freedom combine, so materials aren’t subjective.

    The material of space is like having a skeleton to gain a vantage point on seamless distance, as in a comparison.

    It’s a style of accumulating materials that does not become a solid thing, anymore.

    Accommodating a view by being able to be seen through is perceptual, not abstract, like space painted white.

    Give a house the form of an event.

    Relate it to something there, a form of compassion.

    Your point of view is: it’s solid already, so there’s warmth.

    In this primitive situation, pure form translates a former empire of space as wilderness.

    Chinese space breaks free from the view in front of me, while my house continues to rotate on earth.

    Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, “Permanent Home”

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