Time's rush and the imagination

by Paul Burmeister

In an essay on the imagination, "The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words," Wallace Stevens makes the argument that especially in our modernist era the imagination must make extraordinary effort to press back against the pressure of reality. In a sense, his essay is about our understanding of time. Imagination is a matter of long-view time, measured in continuous threads over thousands of years. Reality is short-view time, measured in discrete fragments experienced in the here and now. Stevens proposes that nobility is characteristic of the imagination; nobility is "a thing out of time." He notes that nobility is conspicuously absent in contemporary poetry, in part because we are unable to imagine ourselves in a continuity of time.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11