For Who Knows Where the Time Goes


This thin cloud above a heavy mass of clouds that adds a final range to the mountains that alternate with basins across Utah and Nevada, tickled my fancy.

Clouds have distinct forms, as Luke Howard knew when he named them early in the 19th century (cumulus or heap, cirrus or curl of hair, stratus or spread). Goethe, the scientist Goethe, was thrilled by the new classifications and Goethe, the poet Goethe, put the scientific classifications to verse in honor of Howard.

I admire Howard’s scientific observations and the genius of his system. I have spent years of my life reading and writing about Goethe’s works. His occasional poetry, like the ones describing Howard’s clouds, leaves me cold. I prefer Goethe’s and Howard’s drawings of clouds.

22-11-2013-goethe_orig [drawing by Goethe]

howard_anvil [drawing by Luke Howard]


Clouds are rough shapes, loose conglomerations, shifting shapes. They have form, but not fixed form. They are layered manifestations of moisture and wind. They are developing as I watch, different every second. They have no telos, no end and no arche, no beginning. If they achieve cumulus or stratus status they have achieved nothing. They simply are and then they are something else.

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth. . . .” Clouds are windblown spirit, messengers of time, spirits of nature.


About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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2 Responses to For Who Knows Where the Time Goes

  1. nemadude says:

    Lovely. I have qualms with only part of it. There’s John 3:8, and then there’s Bob Dylan’s aphorism: “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” (Subterranean Homesick Blues, 1965). Bobby is perhaps less poetic (less nebulous?) than John, but closer to the truth. But I am happy to suspend such claims for a good poem, or description of clouds!


    • Scott Abbott says:

      I had forgotten the Dylan quote. I can hear the rhythm of the words: you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. A profound line. In the weeks after my divorce Dylan was my therapist.


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