Hourglass Surreal
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A glittering collection of quotes on the elusive nature of time by a wide variety of thinkers, from William Shakespeare to Lenny Bruce.

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As 2023 slides into 2024, we pause for a moment to ponder this mysterious thing called time. You can’t hold it in your hand. You can’t stop it, slow it down, or speed it up. You can’t see it any more than you can see the wind. But you can see its effects.

Here, we present insights into the elusive nature of time as captured in words and images. (This collection was first published January 1, 2014.)

The Elusive Nature of Time


When told the reason for Daylight Saving time, the old Indian said: “Only a white man would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket. (Author Unknown Native American)

Perhaps time’s definition of coal is the diamond. (Khalil Gibran)

Satire is tragedy plus time. You give it enough time, the public, the reviewers will allow you to satirize it. Which is rather ridiculous, when you think about it.  (Lenny Bruce)

It takes a very long time to become young. (Pablo Picasso)

The closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.  (Kurt Vonnegut)

Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind. (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

The separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one. (Albert Einstein)

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. (Henry David Thoreau)

The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose. (Arnold Bennett)

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us. (Henry Stanley Haskins)

I’ve lived out my melancholy youth. I don’t give a f*** anymore what’s behind me, or what’s ahead of me. I’m healthy. Incurably healthy. No sorrows, no regrets. No past, no future. The present is enough for me. Day by day. Today!  (Henry Miller)

Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. (William Faulkner)

But what minutes! Count them by sensation, and not by calendars, and each moment is a day. (Benjamin Disraeli)

Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time. (Jorge Luis Borges)

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
(T.S. Eliot)

Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them. (Dion Boucicault)

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity. (Henry David Thoreau)

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. (Carl Sandburg)

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. (Henry David Thoreau)

How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? (Dr. Seuss)

We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing. (R.D. Laing)

The strangeness of Time. Not in its passing… but in the sudden realization that something finite has passed, and is irretrievable. (Joyce Carol Oates)

Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand. (James Joyce)

The present is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope. (Frank Lloyd Wright)

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
(William Shakespeare)


  • Milicent Cranor

    Milicent Cranor is a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy. She has worked as a creative editor at E.P. Dutton, a comedy ghostwriter, and editor of consequential legal and scientific documents. She has also co-authored numerous peer-reviewed articles for medical journals.

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