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Time Will Tell

by Zettel 

Posted: 18 August 2016
Word Count: 146
Summary: Prompted by a picture of my 18 month-old grand-daughter Poppy. Made this picture my profile picture temporarily to put poem in context

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What's through there
What lies ahead
Can I get through 
Can I still my fear
Time will tell
Look. Find out
A mystery
You must. You can
Trust, Will, Question Doubt
But time will tell
It's dark, my shadow long 
Hold my hand
Help me through
Can I be strong 
Time will tell
It is light that shadow shows
Take my hand for now
I'll guide your way
From Trust Courage grows
But time will tell
I love you all
Please stay with me
Will you set me free
But lift me if I fall
Time will tell
We love you too
That will always be
Love's ties should not bind but
Be formed, re-formed anew

But time will tell
Will I remember you
When you're gone 
When I hold other tiny hands
Will the joy of now feel true
Time will tell

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:41 on 20 August 2016  Report this post
Hello Zettel – Glad you decided to stay with us. This poem works very well; it achieves a good deal, as this comment will try to show. It’s well thought through and well structured. It didn’t take long to see that it’s a dialogue, not spoken, but a dialogue – a juxtaposition – of thoughts and feelings between your granddaughter and yourself, or between any parent/grandparent and child.
It begins with the photo. As children do, she hesitates to venture through a shadowy place. But your opening lines broaden this out to mean, ‘What lies beyond? What’s through the next night, next month, next year?’ The answer is, ‘Look. Find out’. Have courage. It’s a good start to the poem.
The rest of the poem is a very sensitive representation, simply expressed, of the need for the child’s independent spirit to be helped to grow. I think this stanza conveys it so simply and yet effectively:
I love you all
Please stay with me
Will you set me free
But lift me if I fall
Stay with me, but set me free. Let me me free, but be there for me. It captures a moment just between dependence and independence. The poem moves on to the growing child being loved, not in a ‘binding’ way but in a way that changes with her growing maturity.
A quality I see – that surely any reader would see at once - in this poem, is one that appears in much of your work over the years. Just simplicity. Some poets tend to avoid plain language as somehow ‘unpoetic’. I think it depends on how much real substance there is in the poem. If you really have something to say, you can say it simply. I’ve no doubt that this poem has something wise to say, and the simplicity of the language conveys it well.
‘Time will tell’. I think in the context the refrain makes us think about what is meant by this common phrase. It can be pessimistic, implying that time can crush or at least disappoint our aspirations. Or it can mean: if there is love, and caring, awareness of and response to a child’s needs, in time the child will become a mature, loving adult – who will ‘hold other tiny hands’ and continue the process. Of course the poem leads us away from the pessimistic connotations of the old saying – but the ‘down side’ did come to mind!
Returning to simplicity of language, your last line is outstanding:
Will the joy of now feel true
I won’t attempt to paraphrase this line; it’s a thought that can’t be expressed in any other way. Any imaginative reader would appreciate the depth of it.
Thank you for this poem. I hope you’ll get responses from other members too.

AlanRain at 11:15 on 21 August 2016  Report this post
Hi Zettel,
I won't focus on the meaning of your poem, as James has already done that, but turn to another aspect instead.
At first glance, the poem appears as though it is going to be a 'shouty' type of poem with the capitalised titles and short lines. In fact, it isn't. So, I wonder if the repeated refrain actually distorts the whole? Of course, this is purely personal opinion.

The two stanzas that begin with It's made me pause, as I wasn't sure if it was correct, or should have been Its. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure, but the main reason I doubted this is due to the absence of question marks in the first stanza that I feel should be present.
I know it is fashionable to use half-way punctuation, but it does have the effect of putting doubt in the mind of the reader: is missing / incorrect punctuation deliberate, or simply wrong? Again, each reader will form his or her own opinion.

Yes, the language is simple, and as I prefer more rhythmic and musical language, I won't comment. I do wonder, though, if the 'anew' is required? Does 're-formed' not work on its own? I feel a concise style requires every word to carry its weight.

I know these may seem trivial issues, but then giving feedback on poetry is often down to this.


Cliff Hanger at 17:09 on 21 August 2016  Report this post
Hello Zettel

I didn't even notice the lack of question marks. I suppose because it's clear the voice is of a very young child and it seems irrelevant somehow. I like the two way conversation. It's reminiscent of the poem you wrote about Nice but wider in focus. The simple language captures the magic of childhood for me. It does have a dark side though. That comes with the repetition of 

But time will tell

juxtaposed with 

Time will tell

That 'but time will tell' feels brooding and malevolent to me. We never know how things are going to pan out for good or bad. 

An interesting poem and thanks for sharing the lovely photo of your grand-daughter. You're very lucky.


James Graham at 20:42 on 22 August 2016  Report this post
I agree with Alan about ‘anew’. ‘Be formed, re-formed’ carries all the necessary meaning. But like Jane I didn’t feel the need for question marks.

‘But time will tell’. To begin with I had slight misgivings about this refrain, but decided it was weighted in favour of its positive connotations. Now I’m not so sure. Especially where there’s a ‘but’ before the phrase, it seems pessimistic, even threatening, as if the adult voice is saying, ‘I’ll take your hand for now, courage grows out of trust – but something terrible may happen that ruins everything. I wonder if the poem might be stronger – and certainly more affirmative, as it’s intended to be – if you dispensed with the refrain entirely?


Zettel at 00:28 on 23 August 2016  Report this post
Thanks everyone.

This was first written and then posted on my phone. Capitals were the only emphasis open to me. I meant to change them to italics when back on my PC, but forgot. This now for me is the right level of emphasis and avoids the 'shouty' internet convention of capitals. The lack of italics on phones is a deficiency long overdue for change.

'It's'. For me the meaning is clear as both naturally expand into 'It is' - the litmus test.  However, prompted by your remarks Alan I have left the first as is because it is the more 'natural' form for Poppy's voice while 'It is' is slightly more appropriate for my voice - so this difference enables a marginal additional emphasis on the distinction.

On the more general point about punctuation marks. My first instinct is to leave them out if the grammatical, semantic form makes the meaning clear. This is not affectation for me but an important 'poetic' consideration. I am a stickler for full, proper punctuation with prose because there, content is king. Punctuation adds precision and clarity to what is a very specific idea or thought. In a poem though I want the meaning to flow from the words themselves and their order. This may sometimes require the reader to re-read because the same words can have different possible meanings: at its worst this irritates the reader; at its best it helps the words to resonate with possible meanings.  As the several comments on this poem indicate, there are different ways of 'reading' some of these lines, including especially 'time will tell'. These same words are  intended to capture a different tone from each of the stanzas they follow: and the addition of 'but' alters this again. 

The underlying thought isof course that life is uncertain: there are no guarantees and for all our striving and efforts to take repsonsiblity for our lives we are all in the final analysis forced to await the outcome, the results of those efforts against the background of a world of chance and uncertainty. The paradox, contradiction if you will of our lives is that we both come to realise that we are in one sense at the mercy of the 'randomness' and chance of events in an 'indifferent' world; but that we must never let this prevent us from doing the best we can to control or affect that world in how we conduct our lives.  The structure of stanza and refrain is intended to emphasise this idea every time; an idea that came to me very forcibly in the case of an 18 month-old for whom every single day contains something new; experiences accumulating through memory to form the connection between events of subjective experience that constitues the development of this 'person', this unique individual.

I don't see anything 'threatening' in the necessity that we must all confront and come to terms with this necessity. I agree it can be a frightening, even terrifying idea that we live in a random, indifferent world; but to understand it as 'threatening' seems to me teeter on the edgeof a potentially dangerous mistake. However, our will, and evenually values and beliefs, guide how we respond to this irreducible uncertainty of life and we have various 'narratives' that express this and help us come to terms with it: from a detached notion of 'fate'; through a constant struggle fuelled by love and affection (or even hate and revenge etc); to a belief in a personal 'destiny' or a faith that we are 'in the hands of God' etc etc.

One of the most profoundly affecting experiences I have had as a grandparent, which because of all the stresses and demands of parenthood I missed somewhat with my own children, is to see, every day in Poppy the sheer innocent joy of living; the fun of existence. (There is reason only children skip). Yes there is in me a sense of foreboding as I know that she, as we all must, will meet sadness and fear as well as love and hopefully joy.  When people speak of the happiness of childhood it is this absolutely innocent, instinctive joyous response to the world that is meant.  It is this that is so 'sacred' that it should never be knowingly, wilfully or thoughtlessly marred, ignored or worst of all stolen.

It is not false modesty that makes me describe my efforts as 'little' poems as they are my best effort in a few words, to try to capture such deep feelings and often complex ideas.  For me this is inherently paradoxical: for in poetry it seems to me that what complexity and depth requires is simplicity - not more complexity.  This is not so true for example in Science or Philosophy where precision and clarity drive the language.

If you will read this poem letting the stanza before each refrain 'colour' how you understand the feelings the refrain expresses, I'd like to think you will find something different in tone and perspective in each case.  That certainly was my intention. Only you can decide, each for yourself, if it works.  But I hope you will understand why I don't think the poem, as I intended it, can work without the refrain.

Thanks for all the comments. I have made changes in the light of them that I think have improved the poem, whatever its overall merit may or may not be.




Edith at 18:24 on 23 August 2016  Report this post
Hi Zettel,
First of all I have to say I love your poem. I especially love the repeated refrain, like a song’s chorus, or a prayer perhaps, an invocation almost, though at times the words seem almost pessimistic, as if your experience has proven that what time will tell is not always quite what we want to hear, eg in the following lines, the first line sounds so certain and sure of itself in a kind of New Age-y sort of way, to be followed by the darkly adamant “But”
“From Trust Courage grows
 But time will tell”.
In the second stanza I loved that there was no comma between question and doubt, suggesting that the child learns how to “question doubt”

“Trust, Will, Question Doubt”
 The theme of the poem, at least as I read it, is carried by the refrain, that nothing is certain, that all the poet’s hopes and best wishes may, in the end, come to naught, simply because the poet has been round long enough to know that nothing in life is certain. In a way the refrain is not a million miles away from the prayer “God willing”, a version of which can be found in all religions the world over.
The final stanza feels quite sad to me, heavy, as if the poet is questioning her love from the previous stanza
“We love you too
That will always be
Love's ties should not bind but
Be formed, re-formed anew”
 I wonder what exactly the poet fears? But I don’t need to be told. The wondering is the poem.
Finally I really like the omission of question marks. For me that they weren’t there seemed to add to the individual voice of the poet / speaker / narrator, rendering it both more personal and simultaneously universal.
Lovely poem.

AlanRain at 10:34 on 24 August 2016  Report this post

However, prompted by your remarks Alan I have left the first as is because it is the more 'natural' form for Poppy's voice while 'It is' is slightly more appropriate for my voice - so this difference enables a marginal additional emphasis on the distinction.

This is a good idea, and it highlights one way the poem could develop: by greater distinction between the voices. For example, 'Can I still my fear' is not something I believe a child would say. Similarly, in the 5th stanza, for me, the voice doesn't quite have the right childlike conviction. And I'll just have to disagree with you - and everyone else - about the absent question marks. I believe it's about conjuring the curious expression on the child's face.
I wonder if, in the 4th stanza you would emphasis the 'will' in guiding the way? I will guide your way.

(I don't actually draw such a distinction between poetry and prose. I see no need for one, although metrical, rhyming verse is a more complicated matter.)

In the end, it's all down to personal preference, and a reader of a poem can only make suggestions. Some might be useful, some not. I know when I post a work, I like to be challenged, to be made to question the reasons why I use one word / phrase and not another, why I use a certain format, type of language, etc. The debates that come out of it can be revealing, and extremely useful in forging improvement, which is why we're here.    

James Graham at 20:43 on 24 August 2016  Report this post
I suppose poetry critics have a built-in cliché warning which goes off on meeting a phrase such as ‘Time will tell’. In this case, however, the warning should be ignored.
In your poem the phrase, used as a refrain, becomes more meaningful than it’s ever likely to be when used in casual conversation. Each stanza colours the refrain in different ways, resulting in a fine balance in the mind of the adult speaker in the poem, and the reader’s mind too: a balance between hope that the child’s future life will bring fulfilment, love and (for the most part) happiness; and a recognition that adversity may bring sorrow, fear, and struggle. I was being simplistic when I interpreted it as just an expression of hope or just one of foreboding. Both are present. Certainly to see the refrain as threatening is wrong.
Your thoughtful reflections on the poem (above) convince me that it successfully captures that ‘sheer, innocent joy of living’ which is characteristic of childhood, and at the same time expresses quite profoundly a wise adult response to childhood innocence.
On a more personal note, perhaps your granddaughter should read this poem at some time in the future.

Zettel at 01:00 on 25 August 2016  Report this post
Thank you so much for your generous remarks.  I am so pleased an encouraged that you have both understood what I was trying to do with the poem and that you have enjoyed it on that level.

I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of challenge and question; as indeed is indicated within the poem itself.  There does come a time however when after blancing challenge with one's own instincts then one feels 'enough' and move on to the next poem.

Thaks as evr for the comitment and thought you bring to every poem.

I am keeping a diary of everyday events that is intended for Poppy at a later stage in her life; especially in the light of the reality I express in the last stanza of the poem. I hope that it may offer some insight in the person she may not remember in too much detail.

Thanks again to everyone: I have certainly benefitted from the discussion and I hope you have found something within it to relate to. Wrtiewords offers a rather unique service in this respect as reading poetry can often be or seem to be, an isolated activity and open mikes and slams do not tend to offer the space or the context for thoughtful consideration and sharing of issues arising from  an individual piece of work.



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