For the Time Being by Carmen Bugan explores living through the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. The poem touches on aspects of life that were common during the lockdown, such as stockpiling, silence, and hoping. Bugan watches as the silence of nature returns, humans being forced to slow down and listen.
Explore For The Time Being
Summary of For the Time Being
Covering stockpiling, changing habits, and death, Bugan focuses on major moments. The poet begins by exploring the manic rush to stockpile food, supermarkets being depleted of their resources. She then moves on to the silence, roads now emptied and people sat still in their homes. The sudden lack of possibility meant that people had more time for each other. This sense of community spans across the globe, with people coming together. The final stanza focuses on the social practices that have come from the pandemic, ‘call, check in, reassure’ that everyone is okay.
You can read the full poem here.
Form and Structure
Carmen Bugan splits For the Time Being into 6 stanzas. Each of these stanzas measures four lines, the poem totaling 24 lines. The repeated structure could reflect the unification of communities. Indeed, Bugan depicts the coming together of groups of people, mirrored in the consistent form of the poem. Everyone is going through a similar experience, Bugan using the same form to reflect this.
Themes in For the Time Being
Disease and sickness are at the heart of For the Time Being. Bugan’s poem is a reaction to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic and is therefore inspired by, and based up, sickness. The use of the semantics of death and sickness also reminds the reader of the deadliness of the disease. It seems that Bugan wants to remember those lost, ‘dying in hospitals’. It is a realistic poem, not overlooking the horrific international death tolls.
Another theme that Bugan touches upon in For the Time Being is the power of nature. Nature is the only unchanging presence in the poem. The once all-powerful humanity has been reduced to ‘silence’. Yet, nature continues to exist and thrive. The strange silence that falls upon the world reflects this, people tuning into the sound of nature outside. This gave many an opportunity to restore connections with nature, experiencing it without the rush of human life.
One technique that Bugan uses consistently throughout the poem is caesura. By creating slight pauses in the meter of For the Time Being, Bugan slows the poem down. One of the main day-to-day impacts of the pandemic was the forced slowing down of human life. Unable to go out, go to work, or see others, meant everyone became much stiller. The constant break in meter reflects this new speed, the poem pausing and slowly progressing to echo the reality of the pandemic.
Another technique that Bugan employs in For the Time Being is a lack of specificity. Both on a structural and linguistic scale, Bugan avoids specific examples. Instead of mentioning which country an event occurred in, it is simply written as ’In other countries’. In fact, the poem could essentially be based anywhere. This can also be seen in regards to time, ‘for the time being’ reflecting a sense of not knowing. There is no set expiration date of a pandemic, we must learn to be content ‘for the time being’.
For the Time Being Analysis
We are fine, they say, for the time being.(…)Except to let the dog run in the yard.
The opening line of the poem is incredibly fractured by caesura. Bugan writes, ‘we are fine, they say, ‘For the Time Being’, further employing an endstop to close the line. There are, therefore, three distinct metrical pauses, slowing down the pace of the poem. This reflects the inability to continue on at the normal pace of life. The pandemic meant the slowing down of life as we knew it, the world coming to a standstill. A disrupted meter encompasses this slowness, Bugan setting the tone of the poem with the opening line.
The first stanza details the ‘pantry’ and ‘prescription’ filling that occurred at the beginning of the pandemic. The rush to get supplies, particularly (and rather comically) toilet paper, was an international phenomenon.
Our road has fallen silent, we can hear the trees(…)To watch the trees bloom. When was the last time?
In stanza two of For the Time Being, after the world begins to slow, all that is left is nature. Outside houses, the ‘road has fallen silent’, the constant movement of cars coming to a halt. Now there is not the continual noise of traffic and the movement of cars, ‘we can hear the trees’. They, alongside with the ‘river’, fill the silence, nature providing a harmonious background to the pandemic.
Bugan also states that there is ‘a lot of time’, reflecting the lack of ability to do anything. This new stillness allows people to reconnect with nature, ‘watch the trees bloom’. The slowness of a blooming tree is now the same pace as human life, humanity regressing in efficiency and speed.
The elderly are used to sitting the days.(…)Bake, wash the curtains, and make love again, finally!
Yet, this regression in speed allows for human connection to occur more freely. Without distraction, ‘we have time to play with our children, bake, wash’, the poet listing activities. The use of asyndeton reflects the endlessness of this list, another menial task appearing, and taking up time each day. The lack of active tasks to work on allowed many people to focus on hobbies. One of these is referenced directly, ‘bak[ing]’ taking the world by storm.
The use of an exclamation, ‘finally!’ at the end of this asyndetic list presents a sense of relief. While many people hated the lack of things to do during the lockdown, Bugan displays the other side of this story. Many people loved having time, ‘When was the last time’ There was an opportunity like this?
Stanza Four and Five
Now that the shelves at the shops are empty(…)Slipping through their hands, for the time being.
Bugan refers further to the semantics of sickness, revealing the reality of the pandemic. Although the whole world is ‘empty’ of activity, the ‘hospitals’ are busier than ever.
The triple repetition of ‘pray’ could be signaling the powerlessness that many felt during the pandemic. Only those in the medical profession working constantly, to ‘pray’ was all many could do. The communal pronoun ‘we’ signals the unification in this process, people coming together to try and feel useful and productive.
In other countries many sing from their balconies(…)From a distance, hoping: for the time being.
The final stanza focuses on human practices around the world in response to the pandemic. Referencing a video of a neighborhood of Italians that ‘sing from their balconies’, people cope in different ways. The motive behind this singing to ‘cheer each other up through so much dying’. The use of ‘sing’ relates to a sense of elation, a slight moment of happiness among all the bad news.
The last two lines of the poem reveal a more personal sense fo connection. Everyone, again signaled through the plural ‘we’, tries to ‘call, check-in, reassure’ one another.
The enjambment between ‘smile/From a distance’ reflects the practice of social distancing. Not allowed to be within two meters of each other, these lines are enjambed to reflect this distance. The space between people being another form of isolation and change.
The final verb of the poem before the repetition of the title is poignant, ‘hoping’. This accurately summarises all we can do, sit back, and hope.
Daniel Halpern constructs a similar poem, ‘Pandemania‘, exploring the impacts of a pandemic on people’s emotions. The way people interact with each other changes, reflecting the sudden shift within this poem. Both poets explore the change in humanity that sickness can bring.
Tory Dent’s ‘us‘ explores sickness on a more personal level. Living out her final days in hospital, Dent showcases the raw human emotions that surround the process of dying. The poem is intimate and reflects a similar tone that Bugan creates. While Bugan focuses on international communities, Dent focuses on more personal experience.