'Time can be cruel and compassionate; it can give as well as take away.' In light of this quote, explore Larkin and Duffy's presentation of time.

Larkin and Duffy present time as something that certainly ‘gives’ and ‘takes away’, but the question of cruelty and compassion involves a notion of intention on the part of time. While time is inanimate, it can ‘take away’ people’s hold on the truth, but this can be either cruel or compassionate in its effects depending on the nature of the truth itself. The question presented by Duffy and Larkin is largely one that revolves around the human tendency to assign qualities to the abstract concept of time, its virtues and vices; it is in this interpretation of time that people feel that it is ‘cruel’ or compassionate’. However, both poets do also question the nature of human agency and determinacy, suggesting that humans are inexorably under the yoke of a personified Time, and its every whim. Duffy and Larkin both question human free will by personifying Time, thus giving heed to the inherent notion of intention in the adjectives ‘cruel’ and ‘compassionate’; both poets suggests that people are defenceless against Time’s power to alter, though what they ‘give’ and ‘take away’ varies. Duffy’s speaker in ‘Meant Time’ laments the end of a relationship in a deterministic way, suggesting that Time ‘takes away’ love and happiness. The imagery of “The clocks slid back” personifies Time, as the active verb form implies activity on the part of Time. The metaphorical image of a “clock” is a fundamental piece of symbolism for the concept of time. Larkin personifies Time in much the same way; Larkin describes the “belly” of time, and by using bodily imagery assigns Time a human form and quality. Moreover, both poets’ personifications of time are ominous and villainous, akin to ‘cruel’. The noun “belly” perhaps connotes a notion of consumption and devouring, as a beast does to its prey, and Duffy’s verb “slid” employs sibilance, as well as the imagery of almost slimy and serpent-like movement to suggest Time’s duplicity. In this way, both poets present Time as cruel, with the idea of intention being crucial. Postmodernist thought began to wonder about the intrinsic futility of human free will, as the existential twentieth century literary movement began to question man’s power over the cosmos. Indeed, human futility is dealt with by both poets. When wishing to go back in time and prevent the end of her relationship, Duffy’s speaker wishes she could “lift one hour” from the day. The noun “hour” tells us that what is to blame is time, and not human action. Time therefore can ‘take away’ control and agency from life, which to an increasingly secular society as the one in which Duffy was writing, this was an especially harrowing prospect, as the belief in God’s omnibenevolence was diminished in the 1980s. However, Larkin presents time as being ‘cruel’, but its cruelty is worsened by its false impression of ‘compassion’ that it gives in youth; indeed it can be ‘cruel and compassionate’, almost whimsically it seems, not just either or. Larkin’s register in the first stanza is youthful and informal; nouns like “lads” and to “have a bash” are innocent and frivolous. Each stanza perhaps represents a stage of life in the poem, and with each stage, time becomes less compassionate and more ‘cruel’. Larkin describes the human qualities of time, implying a fatherly, secure and compassionate figure. The adjective “booming” assigns to Time a reassuring, paternal baritone voice, and the imagery of Time having “patted my head” evokes the quintessential image of father and son. Therefore, it seems that Larkin implies that time gives the false impression of compassion in youth, before turning ‘cruel’ later. In light of this, it seems that what Time ‘takes away’ is idealism and innocence. Indeed, this can be seen as analogous to Larkin’s relationship with his society. Ruchika Balhara comments that “Larkin feared the affluence of Britain and the materialism it brought”. Indeed, the 1960s gave birth to consumerism and the feeling of being alienated by advertising and sensationalist media. However, Balhara does not consider that the poem is also perhaps a metaphysical one about the inherent futility of humankind’s struggle to assert control over their lives. Indeed, the metaphor of the “hail of occurrence” would suggest that metaphysical idea; the noun “occurrence” seems a deliberate alternative to simply ‘time’, and its suggests an element of accident and chance, a lack of human involvement. Moreover, equating it to “hail” is to equate it to the weather, that which is uncontrollable. Duffy uses similar natural imagery to suggest the futility of human will. The “darkening sky” is spoken of in the active verb form, similarly giving agency to something above and beyond human control: day and night. Moreover the present participle adjective of “darkening” implies a process in constant movement, something that continues to happen and perhaps cannot be stopped. It seems that the postmodern idea of determinism accompanying this natural imagery of the weather relates to the twentieth century attitude in the scientific community; particle physicists like Niels Bohr faced questions of free will in a strictly scientific and natural context. Overall, Duffy and Larkin both personify Time, giving it agency, and ‘taking away’ human agency and free will. However, Duffy posits that the most damaging thing that Time ‘takes away’ is love, but for Larkin it is idealism and youth. Both poets, however, are unequivocal in lamenting the cruelty of time's unstoppable passage..  

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