Some Words of Warning for Time Travellers
for John Crowley
Good day, come in and state your heart’s desire.
You might have planned your trip to foreign times
To learn about the shape of things to come
To fetch a bit of knowledge,
The winning lotto numbers,
The best performing stocks,
Game scores and race results,
And such outcomes as you may safely bet on.
Perhaps you’ll trigger wars or cause a famine;
A bit of profiteering never made
A clever person poorer.
To alter still unwritten history
To make it turn out right for you. Destroy
The future of a billion
To put another billion in your pocket.
Don’t look so scared now, it is not illegal
Although they did talk of outlawing it
–At least they thought about it for a while–
But then they realized that this was just
Another method of accomplishing
What has kept mankind busy since the fall:
Make sure your future’s bright
No matter what the price to pay might be
To everybody else.
So you’ll be perfectly all right, just take
A lot of care that you don’t get entangled
In any kind of loop
See, paradoxes have a nasty way
Of getting sprung on you. But Time is not
The only one who takes
Revenge on the incautious.
Perhaps you’re one of those who want to save
Humanity from all its evil ways;
The things we’ve done! –since Time’s very beginnings.
Go back and bar the worst atrocities
From having taken place at all. Prevent
Catastrophes and horrors,
That is a righteous purpose you pursue!
I beg you, pardon me the cynicism
That seems to tint my words
Sincerely, I admire your reckless drive,
Your fierce determination,
And do not mind at all that by your act
My present will be altered
In unimagined ways. I might regret
Not being part of the resulting era
The world you seem to strive for –after all–
Should be a better one.
To step into the past and stop the tyrant
From murdering uncounted innocents
To stop the world from plunging into darkness,
To keep a worthy culture
from being conquered, wiped out and forgotten,
To save a single life –even just one–
For isn’t every single life most sacred?
To keep a wondrous species from extinction,
And to preserve creation’s purity.
You see? I praise the selfless
Nobility of your brave enterprise,
Admire the virtue of your just intent.
But listen, for there is this thing that put
The edge into my voice,
The nagging tinge of incredulity:
You’re not the first I’ve met
That set out on a quest to make times better
In fact this very moment
There must be men and women
At every turning point of history
Who strive to bend it hoping for the best
–And theory leaves no doubt that they must be
Succeeding in the bending.
For all we know, our present has mutated
A thousand times since you entered the store.
But if you care to check your memory,
Or else those books that stand there on the shelves
(If you prefer to trust the written word)
You will confirm the world is still imperfect;
That death, despair and evil still are there
As part of it as any other thing.
It’s just as if the facts of history
Are subject to the rule of evolution:
If you remove one evil deed, another
Will rise and take its place,
For there may be no niches left unfilled.
But I’m not speaking to deter you –No,
The world has always needed righteous champions
To justify us sinners.
Then maybe you just want to live the thrills
Of a specific era.
That would be fun indeed,
To see and feel the way that people were
In that precise moment in history
You always have preferred.
Yet you should be aware that epochs don’t
Exist outside the reminiscing pages
Of period books and picture magazines.
Each hour concerned with bringing forth an hour
A day is nothing but
The birthing pangs of yet another day.
You’d like to live forever in the sixties?
Well let me tell you then, they didn’t last
Not even for ten years.
No wonder if you stop to think how busy
They kept at making everything brand new.
Or is it one of those lost periods that
Historians and romantics
Though lacking any records to go by
Admire for their apparent lack of progress,
The placid slumber of their centuries?
Well, even if it turned out that the flow
Of fashion and ideas could slow down
Become the faintest trickle of mutation,
Would you find any permanence at all?
A sense of sameness that persists through time?
Think twice: what happened to that place you used
To visit faithfully, you still pass by
It sometimes. They still have the same decor
Same pictures hanging from the wall, a bit
More pale perhaps, a bit more anachronic.
The same and yet it all feels different now.
The patrons changed, their fashions too, their drinks,
Their voices and the flavour of their talk.
And you? What changed in you that stopped you going?
Maybe you’ll find a solid future era
Eons of tranquil immobility
Peace for a lifetime, even if they find
A cure for everything.
But don’t forget the future
Has still not happened yet.
Who knows what’s coming? What with all these trips
With everybody making things unmade
The future, frankly, is a mess that’s changing
Irrevocably even as we speak.
Oh, don’t give up so fast, don’t be discouraged
All travel, after all, has always been
Time travel –and the fact that you can never
Arrive at just the place that you set out for,
Has never stopped a soul
From taking to the road or boarding ships.
See for yourself, pick up a souvenir
For even if you find things not as rosy
As can be seen on postcards, even if
You find yourself, bewildered, wondering
What all the fuzz they made
–all the romantic nonsense– was about
There still is hope you’ll find a special place
A corner of the world
That never has been seen as by your eyes.
Now take your seat, adjust the straps, relax
And goodbye, for no two
shall ever meet two times.