Cosmic time, nature time, human time (Where am I?)

"Clocks MURDER 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

C.D. Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818

C.D. Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818


Art doesn’t flirt with death. To the contrary, it tries to exorcize it.

Art doesn’t try to rethink Time, to give it an essence of stasis, of non-movement: carpe diem dilates the present, memento mori vanifies the future.

The more the future becomes undefined, the easier it becomes to live the present.


Yet time goes well beyond the human time, and different shades in the definition of time emerge, in literature before science.

Three types of time become of relevance:

  • Cosmic Time
  • Nature Time
  • Human Time


Cosmic Time

The Time of the Universe, or Cosmic Time, is the container within which all the other types of time take place, in a breath-taking spiral: un-defined, un-accessible, un-comprehensible.

William Turner, Shade and darkness, 1843

William Turner, Shade and darkness, 1843

Time will come, when the universe, and nature herself,
shall fade away. And so like of the great human kingdoms and empires, of their wonderful quests, famous in other eons
today there is no trace, nor fame; so of the world entire, its infinite events, and calamities of what was made,
there will be no vestige; but a naked silence,
and the highest stillness, will fill the space immense.
So this mystery, admirable and fearful, of the universal existence, before it can be understood, and explained,
will vanish and forever be lost.
— G. Leopardi, The cantic of the wild rooster, 1824

Nature time

Then there is the Time of Nature, with the rhythmic cadence of the seasons, circular and cyclical. The time of nature paints the great model for mankind – the eternal return, and a key axis of poetry.

Henri Rousseau, The Dream, 1910

Henri Rousseau, The Dream, 1910

Nature, always green, proceeds instead
by so long a route
she seems to remain at rest. Meanwhile empires fall,
peoples and tongues pass: She does not see:
and man lays claim to eternity’s merit.
— G. Leopardi, Wild Broom (or the flower of the desert), 1836

The human time

UBI SUNT, where am I? Will ask the human being


Finally we find the Human Time. The straight line with a beginning and with an end. Within the Human Time three distinctions are due, as we find:

  • The Time of Mankind, as distant as the concept of cosmic time, but straight and driven by the notion of ‘becoming’.
  • We have then the Time of History, also governed by the laws of the 'becoming', also on a straight line, but impacted by death, the extinction of peoples and civilizations.
  • Lastly, we find the Time of the Individuals, determined by death. In this dimension, 'becoming' is associated with sickness, elder age, death. To this time, existential, the initial formulas of Carpe Diem and Memento Mori relate to.


So the question of Ubi Sunt raises loud. Where am I within these schemes of time? Where on the straight line of my life? Where in history? Where in the universe?

To this, again, refers the existential, initial formulas of Carpe Diem and Memento Mori. Hic et Nunc. You are here. You are now.

Expand your present. Pour the wine.

Edward Burne-Jones,  The Briar Wood,  1900

Edward Burne-Jones, The Briar Wood, 1900

Time likewise bears away. Where now is the voice
Of the ancient peoples, the clamor of our ancestors
Who were renowned, and that great Empire of Rome,
The arms, and the clash they made by land and sea?
All is silence and peace; the world is still
— G. Leopardi, The evening after the festival day, 1819

Take your time.



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