Writing

It’s…Groundhog Day! 9 Author Quotes on the Slippery Nature of Time

Photograph of a young Kahlil Gibran.

Editor's Note:

If you’re stirred by these author quotes, amble down our archive for more.

For many of us, Groundhog Day is little more than an excuse to rewatch a certain 1993 Bill Murray film, the cult classic which forces its protagonist to relive the same day over and over again. Over the years this has turned an admittedly minor holiday into an annual meditation on the slippery nature of time itself.

Time apparently doesn’t exist as we experience it, which is why the task of explaining it has fallen to our poets and artists as well as our scientists. In her recent album, Joanna Newsom described time as “just another poor tenant: Bearing weight, taking fire, trading smokes / In the war between us and our ghosts.” To Heraclitus it was “a game played beautifully by children.” Consider the following quotes a reminder to spend tomorrow pondering the significance of it all — but if you forget, there’s always next year.

1. Zadie Smith, White Teeth, 2000
“Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.”

2. Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves, 2000
“Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of your life you have lost something and the loss is too empty to share.”

3. H.P. Lovecraft, “The Nameless City,” 1921
“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”

4. Stephen Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes, 1993
“Time and space are finite in extent, but they don’t have any boundary or edge. They would be like the surface of the earth, but with two more dimensions.”

5. Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World, 1991
“Not everybody can let himself drift along the flow of history. Some of us have to stop to pick up what’s washed up on the banks of the river.”

6. Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, 1923
“Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness,
And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow
is today’s dream.”

7. Simone de Beauvoir, The Mandarins, 1954
“She was ready to deny the existence of space and time rather than admit that love might not be eternal.”

8. Douglas R. Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, 1979
“What is an ‘I’, and why are such things found (at least so far) only in association with, as poet Russell Edson once wonderfully phrased it, ‘teetering bulbs of dread and dream’ — that is, only in association with certain kinds of gooey lumps encased in hard protective shells mounted atop mobile pedestals that roam the world on pairs of slightly fuzzy, jointed stilts?”

9. Sylvia Plath, from “Years,” 1962
“Eternity bores me,
I never wanted it.”