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I do not fear the time

Two teenagers wrote two songs months apart and recorded versions of them both together. One died terribly young; the other still writes songs and plays shows in his seventies. Both songs are now mainstays of funerals and yet not exactly meant for them: ‘Meet on the Ledge’, to which the ever-equivocal Richard Thompson chooses not to pin the meaning so many people have bestowed upon it, and ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’, Sandy Denny’s gift to the world. In the version she recorded with Thompson and Fairport Convention she sings ‘I have no fear of time’, but in her earlier recording for The Strawbs and her live performances it is ‘I do not fear the time’, a choice more often followed by others in the many many covers of the song. One stretches out and defines her, and perhaps that absoluteness is more poetically pure; one comes from the place where she stands and exists in the moment. I go with the last one. I take that one with me. And when Denny sings at the end ‘for who knows how my love grows?’ she is telling you that you don’t know and perhaps she doesn’t either: it just does. It is inexplicable; love is inexplicable.

They are not songs about leaving. (‘When I Get To the Border’ and ‘Dimming of the Day’, on the other hand.) They are songs about being left behind: the solitude of the cold seasons, the loneliness that comes when you make sincere promises to those you love, only for time (and you) to break them. They speak of a hope that the cycle will renew, of a second chance to keep your word, of being reunited if you wait long enough. (‘I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving.’)

Perhaps that is why those two songs have become so bound to final goodbyes: after such loss, hope is what is meant to be left in the box even if the box is empty.