Conceptual metaphors in “Time: The Beginning” by Megadeth

Hello, folks! New month – new post. With this article I am introducing some new features into my blogging thing. First, I will write in a much more personal way from now on. What I am doing here is not a science. I am just sharing my personal thoughts, based on the writings of some great minds. Second, I will present the whole text of a song before going through it.

So, what have I stashed for February? It is “Time: The Beginning”, a ballad-like song by American thrash metal veterans Megadeth (released on “Risk” LP in 1999).

Here are the lyrics:

Father time, I’m running late

I’m winding down, I’m growing tired

Seconds drift into the night

The clock just ticks till my time expires


You were once my friend

Now I know I can’t tie your hands

The days I saved I couldn’t spend

They fell like sand through the hourglass

No time to lose, no time to choose


Time taking time, it’s taken mine

Scenes of my life seem so unkind

Time chasing time creeps up behind

I can’t run forever, and time waits for no one

Not even me


An enemy I can’t defend

My final place a deadly end

Life’s just a speck in space

Dreams of an eternal resting place


I can’t get any younger

Time has brutal hunger


Short, but very complicated and ultimately packed with metaphors, “Time…” is a story about dying. One single reading of the text is enough to claim that, although death or dying are not mentioned in it. This is exactly where the beauty of metaphor lies and what makes metaphor so fascinating. I will go through the lyrics line after line, challenging the genius of Dave Mustaine in order to uncover what is hidden in the text.

  1. Father time, I’m running late

“Father Time” is a Renaissance concept of time personification, usually depicted as an old man with a harvesting scythe (! PEOPLE ARE PLANTS, DEATH IS HARVESTING/REAPING) and an hourglass (one-way lifetime movement from birth to death). Yes, metaphors, metaphors, metaphors… Actually, the origins of “Father Time” concept go back to Ancient Greece. Its image and meaning derive from those of Chronos (“Time”; Greek three-head deity, personification of time) and Cronus (Greek titan, son of Uranus, “The Sky”, and Gaia, “The Earth”). These two were confused in the course of history and thought to be one character. Cronus was usually depicted with a harp and scythe. The latter was used to cut off the balls and wiener of his father Uranus in order to dethrone him. In the course of his life Cronus ate his own children to secure his power; this act of cannibalism may metaphorically convey the idea of time devouring everything or the past eating/destroying the future. In the end, Zeus, the last child of Cronus, dethroned his father. This was a short note on “Father Time” thing.

Now, things are going to get complicated. The brining of “Father Time” imagery onto the scene has some important implications for the song and the analysis. It introduces two different “times”: one is personified (Father Time) and another is our time, meaning (the time of) our life. The latter concept is tied to the LIFE IS A JOURNEY metaphor. Our time does not exist; we create it by walking along the road of life: the bigger distance is covered, the longer it takes to complete it. This process is our time, which we create by making each single step forward. In other words, we create the future and in a second it becomes our past. Time is, thus, unfolding in front of us and the point of LIFE (which is the journey) is to reach the future events, which are destinations in front of us (linear projection of time and life: there is no way back, only forward).

Let us look at the personified time now, Father Time. How does time personification work? From the dawn of creation, the course of life was structured: there were days and nights and change of seasons. Very primitively speaking, to bring order into the agricultural, political and other aspects of life calendars were created. Thus, time was conceptualized and viewed as something that passes by and changes things during the course of life: TIME IS A CHANGER and TIME MOVES. And it does not move randomly. Again, the movement of time (of life) for humans is linear: from the theoretical past into the unfolding future, in human terms: from our birth till our death. If this event is viewed as an action (the EVENTS ARE ACTIONS metaphor), then the actor is automatically introduced, i.e. the one who performs the action. It is time. In our case, it is Father Time. Time, as a moving entity, follows the same path (JOURNEY) we, humans, walk on and which we conceptualize as our LIFE. Thus, what we have is a path (LIFE), personalized time, moving along the path into the future and us, moving in the same direction the time does. Here the important question pops up: is this time ahead of us, with us or behind us? (Attention! Note that the personalized time concept does not operate, as far as I understand, within the metaphors TIME PASSING IS A MOVING OBJECT – focus on future events approaching us frontally and passing us by, becoming the past – and TIME PASSING IS MOVING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE – focus on a person’s linear movement from the past into the future; time is static, a human reaches all future events by ‘walking ahead’, thus ‘creating’ time). In “More than cool reason” George Lakoff provides the answer in terms of dying. Within this whole concept, death would mean a permanent stop on the path, the inability to move forward and reach the future events, which are destinations on the path. Arguably, a human would not stop by himself/herself. Why would they? There must be something preventing us from walking. This assumption automatically puts this something behind us: the movement on the path of life is one-directional, linear. Nothing can come from the future, which does not exist, and nothing can walk alongside us, because then we would be stopped at the very beginning. Hence, life is a race, or a contest with something. We are running against some entity. Is that death? But death is the final destination: it does not exist in the equation on life. I mean, it is not on the path with us (which seems to contradict the line from “Black God”, namely, “till death overtakes me in chase“). What is there then? There is the personified time there, the changer of things. This time is pursuing us and we are running the race against the time. When it catches up to us and stops us, there is no more time. Our time stops, we die. This is the background for the TIME IS A PURSUER metaphor. Time, as this moving object, is Father Time and he is behind us. This explanation makes him (or it) playing the role of death, at least partly. It is indeed so. Do you remember the origins of the Father Time concept? Cronus ate his children: past eating the future, time devours everything in the course of life. Moreover, remember the scythe and hourglass of Father Time. One is metaphorical symbol of death, another – of mortal life.

Why was it personified as a male (Father Time)? To be honest, I have no idea, but I suppose the answer lies on the surface. European Renaissance was an attempt to restore the aesthetic traditions of Ancient Greece in its golden times. As I wrote above, the Greek philosophy personified time in Chronos/Cronus. The second was male; the first was a three-head serpent, with one head of a male. Why is it father and not uncle? Same thing: Cronus was a father of six gods and he ate five of them. Hence, “Father Time”. Why is depicted as an old man? You can write your thoughts in the comments. I personally tend to believe this has something to do with the old age symbolizing wisdom. Or, maybe, soon death?

Running late” is an idiomatic expression for “to be late for something”, which I suppose may be interpreted as having little time to perform any desired action(s). I am not sure about the thing, but I would claim “running late” is a composite of the TIME PASSING IS MOVING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE and TIME IS A PURSUER metaphors. The former reflects the hero’s time of life; the latter is about Father Time. Thus, our hero is trying to run against Father Time over the landscape of life, but he starts slowing down. He cannot keep the pace. Very soon Father Time will reach the protagonist and stop him forever. The main hero has very limited time of his life. Thus, it becomes possible to say such a thing as “I am running late” regarding time-object, meaning, “I am limited in time”, meaning, “I have almost no time (to make one more step on the path of life)”. The latter brings up yet another metaphor, namely, TIME IS A RESOURCE. As this simple “time” stands for “the time of life”, having almost no time presupposes very soon death. Interesting. Do you have any thoughts on that???

  1. I’m winding down, I’m growing tired

In the context of the song “winding down” is the realization of the orientational metaphor BAD IS DOWN (GOOD IS UP). Why is down necessarily bad? One of the interpretations is embodied in our everyday experience. We, humans, walk upright, which is natural to us. We are up, thus functioning in a normal way. On the contrary, if a person is sick or dead, he/she is positioned horizontally, is down in other words (HEALTH AND LIFE ARE UP, SICKNESS AND DEATH ARE DOWN). The state of sleep is out of the equation here, because it is inevitable and necessary (in order to be up). There are other explanations too (e.g. when ships sink, they literally go down; when planes crash, they literally go down). Moreover, this metaphor is coherent with many other orientational metaphors: LESS IS DOWN (MORE IS UP), BEING SUBJECT TO CONTROL OR FORCE IS DOWN (HAVING CONTROL OR FORCE IS UP), SAD IS DOWN (HAPPY IS UP) etc. This said, I would claim “I’m winding down” must mean that the protagonist faces a soon ‘crash’, metaphorically speaking.

I’m growing tired” carries the same idea of dying, if we follow the chain of entailments from the paragraphs above. It may either focus on the old age of the hero, who cannot keep up in the race against the “Father Time” and eventually ‘loses’, or it may stand for the vitality leaving him and being tired to live.

  1. Seconds drift into the night
  2. The clock just ticks till my time expires

The further we proceed, the more of death we get. Line 3 contains the DEATH IS NIGHT metaphor (LIFETIME IS A DAY), used so much in the “Ghost of the Navigator” by Iron Maiden (my previous article from January 2015). Briefly, within this metaphor, dawn stands for the birth, daytime for lifetime, sunset for the moment of dying and night for death. One of the experiential explanations for this analogy is the cold. Warm temperatures of the day, so beneficial for the life on the planet, give way to the colder ones of the night. As the night brings the cold, so does death bring the cold to the warm body of a living person. ‘Drifting into the night’ is very coherent with the context, created by the first two lines. ‘Drifting’ is uncontrolled movement; it is being carried away by water or winds without resistance. We remember that the hero is ‘winding down and growing tired’. He cannot keep up with the “Father Time” and just gives up: he is being carried away into the realms of death. The word “Seconds” relates metonymically to the notion “time” and the latter, in its turn, is synonymous in our case to “life”. This is the line about the approaching end of life.

The next one is as well, however it is tricky. Line 4 reminded me of Father Time and his hourglass. As the sand falls always from the upper part of the hourglass into the lower one (one-directional movement), as the clock moves always in one direction, so the time moves in the TIME PASSING IS MOVING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE metaphor – from the past into the future, from birth to death. This line, however, contains also another metaphor: TIME IS A VALUABLE RESOURCE/POSSESSION, manifested in the words “… till my time expires”. Time is conceptualized here as a material object, as a resource, which is valuable, because it is limited and non-renewable. The word “expire” has a meaning of “running out”. Again, what we are facing in this line are two different “times”. One is “Father Time” (“The clock just ticks…”), another is synonymous to “life” (“time of the protagonist’s life”). In favor of this explanation speaks also the pronoun “my”: it is quite possible to change the line to “…till my life expires” (LIFE IS A VALUABLE POSSESSION).

  1. You were once my friend
  2. Now I know I can’t tie your hands

It is getting more and more interesting here. The protagonist calls time his former friend, adding that he cannot tie his hands now. Both lines feature the personification of time. What can that possibly mean? Well, the context and some common sense will assist here. Time is, actually, personified as an actor in the very first line of the song, when called “Father Time”. I tried to explain it above. In this case the protagonist just refers to time again, using the pronoun “your” and calling it a former friend. Thinking about friends and friendship in general, one would probably think about someone, who is near and helps in need. That someone would normally leave the life of a person when the friendship is over. Projecting this assumption on the lines and keeping in mind that Father Time (personalized concept of time) is already breathing into the back of the tired protagonist, the explanation pops up itself. “You were once my friend” is again the composite of the TIME PASSING IS MOVING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE and TIME IS A PURSUER metaphors. The logic behind their use is the same as in line 1, but the attitude of the pursuer is altered. Calling time a friend presumes that earlier it helped the hero. That is, time let the hero run ahead when walking the road of life (or at least he thought it was that way). It is vital to note here that it was exactly the time (Father Time), which (who) played and keeps on playing an active role in this ‘relationship’. Time decides for itself and is not under control of its ‘friends’ (people), which symbolizes our inability to control the matters of life and death. Why? Well, it is the main hero, who refers to time as a former friend (it is not I was once your friend, feel the difference). This is supported by the fact that, first, it is exactly time, which is catching up to the hero now (left its friend), and, second, the complaint about not being able to tie time’s hands, not being in control to stop it. This line reminded me of a similar questioning of the same metaphor by Iron Maiden in “Caught somewhere in time”: Time is always on my side.

Line 6. Normally, one ties the hands of a person to prevent them from walking away. Indeed, time is right about walking up to the hero to stop him as we have already seen above. Here, the protagonist desperately attempts to stop the course of time (the walk of Father Time) from moving forward in order to prevent his own death by giving his own time (life) some resource by walking ahead (making the distance between himself and Father Time larger). The author plays with the TIME PASSING IS MOVING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE and personified time metaphors, combining them.

  1. The days I saved I couldn’t spend

The money I save I can always spend. It is the TIME IS MONEY metaphor, which underlines the words of the author (extension of TIME IS A VALUABLE POSSESSION). Days (=time) are not a material resource, though, and thus cannot be literally saved for later. Nevertheless, our society structures time and uses it to place value on other things (like labor). Hence, it is often conceptualized as a resource or possession, very valuable one as I mentioned above.

  1. They fell like sand through the hourglass

The notorious hourglass pops up finally. The lost days of the main hero’s life from the previous line (“They”) are presented here as the sand falling from the upper part of the hourglass into the lower one. My first thought was that this is a dynamic image metaphor. Then I realized that both days and hourglass belong to the same domain – time – and there is an overt comparison here, manifested with the preposition “like”. Apparently, this is a case of simile, not metaphor.

  1. No time to lose, no time to choose

Again, this is a realization of the TIME IS A VALUABLE POSSESSION metaphor. I am not providing the argumentation here, because there were several instances of this metaphor above.

  1. Time taking time, it’s taken mine
  2. Scenes of my life seem so unkind

This is the point when I can say that my assumption about the double meaning of the word “time” was right. The song features the interplay of notions, so to say. On one hand, “time” is used for “Father Time”, on the other hand, “time” is used for “(time of) life”. The former is personified, while the latter is conceptualized as a valuable possession. Father Time has taken my time, there is almost no more of it, the life is over. Taking of the main hero’s time is achieved by shortening the distance between him and Father Time on the path of life; the latter is about to reach the former and stop him.

  1. Time chasing time creeps up behind
  2. I can’t run forever, and time waits for no one
  3. Not even me

The farther we go, the darker the forest is. The author makes a great play with the STAYING ALIVE IS A CONTEST metaphor in the first line, DYING IS LOSING A CONTEST TO AN ADVERSARY (extension of STAYING ALIVE IS A CONTEST) in the second one and TIME IS A PURSUER in both first and second. Moreover, here, as in the entire song, one ‘time’ is personified (“Father Time”) and another one refers to the hero’s “(time of) life”. These lines (12-14) confirm the assumptions about the positions of the main hero and Father Time on the path of life, made when explaining line 1. The protagonist is the one, who is desperately trying to run ahead of Time and get away, thus winning a bit more of life (remember “The days I saved…”?). This explains the reference to Time as the one, creeping up behind (“I’m creeeeping deeeeaaaath, yeah!” © Metallica). This vain endeavor is beautifully emphasized with the wordplay here: while the protagonist is running, Father Time is merely creeping behind and is still getting him. Moreover, you cannot win the race the end of which is death anyway (one-directional time movement).

So, what do we have in the end? “Time chasing time creeps up behind” is based on the TIME IS A PURSUER and the STAYING ALIVE IS A CONTEST metaphors: the protagonist attempts to fight for his life, running ahead of Time.

Line 13 contains the DYING IS LOSING A CONTEST TO AN ADVERSARY metaphor and TIME IS A PURSUER. The main hero is not able to run the race with Father Time forever and the latter will eventually claim the life of the former, when the moment comes.

  1. An enemy I can’t defend
  2. My final place a deadly end

The adversary in the ‘race’ (“Father Time”) is directly called an enemy here. I wonder if I can use the TIME IS AN ENEMY (or ADVERSARY) metaphor, based on the words “… I can’t defend”. Actually, calling time an enemy and stating your inability to defend yourself against it presupposes your failure on the quest for life, which triggers the DEATH IS AN ADVERSARY metaphor. It is surely implied and entailed here, but not coded in words.

Line 16 – My final place a deadly end – is an easy one. It is the DEATH IS GOING TO THE FINAL DESTINATION metaphor.

  1. Life’s just a speck in space
  2. Dreams of an eternal resting place

This analysis is becoming a huge piece of work, which it was not intended to be. However, the end is near. Line 17 contains an image metaphor. It depicts a human life as something very small and insignificant in a huge universe, a speck in space. Note that life, an abstract thing, is compared with a small and bounded physical object, which is a source domain in this metaphor. The size and boundaries of a speck are projected onto life, making the latter one also small, i.e. short, and unimportant.

Line 18 plays with the DEATH IS REST metaphor, which must be an entailment of LIFE IS A BURDEN. Well, the hero is shown as dreaming about the resting place, he craves for it. This may be true if his life really weighs him down. It does, because the race is making him tired and he feels old.

  1. I can’t get any younger
  2. Time has brutal hunger

Finally, the last line of the song gives us the last metaphor of this project: TIME IS A DEVOURER. Yes, time can eat if time is personified. Moreover, we are dealing with Father Time here, the concept, derived from Chronos/Cronus imageries. Let me remind you that Cronus ate five of his children. Brutal hunger indeed.

Actually, the reason for the metaphor is different. Things change with time and cease to exist as the food comes into a human body and ceases to exist in a form and state it was before. Time, the changer of things, is personified. Thus, time can transform the reality by ‘eating’ it. Interesting: was the Greek myth about Cronus and his children based on this chain of thoughts?

And that’s it. I hope you are not tired after reading the article. Please, comment and contribute with your own ideas. I will be back in March with a new post!

Keep rocking to Megadeth!


About Andriy Karamazov

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