It's a wise remark, in any event. Poetry saves time... Whoever first uttered the phrase was on to something. It has the rightness of an observation that deservedly turns into a maxim. And it has the richness of one of those truths that become truer with the years. Poetry is, potentially, more of a time-saver now than ever before.
It sometimes seems to me that modern society--that thing, that all-swallowing presence so vast you can hardly guess at the ends of it--might best be described as a time-saving device. We trim, we truncate, we streamline. Our existences turn airier, filmier. We are translated onto film, and each year the camera--in movies, in commercials, in inpromptu videos--lingers for less time. The cuts come more quickly. Everything blurs. The camera lens (no less than the Moving Finger in the old Persian poem, which "having writ, moves on") has other places to go, other people to see.
Meanwhile, as we're manufacturing more time, most everything shrinks. All in the name of efficiency. The Victorian novel is too long. As are--it turns out--most novels. And most poems. Verse vanishes from the pages of magazines, or appears only in bite-sized portions. Somewhere in America next year, soon--perhaps it has already happened--a poet will submit a haiku to a magazine and be told that everyone on the staff loves it and they'd be thrilled to publish it if only the poet will cut a line or two...
If you follow this logic to its end, it seems we could all save yet more time by doing away with poetry altogether. You won't miss it, you won't read it, you won't give it much thought. This is a plausible position, and one that all sorts of good people (including a number of my closest friends) have effectively embraced. (By the way, I've never been able to accept William Carlos Williams's stirring assertion that "men die miserably every day" for the lack of what's found in poetry--which sounds like something a poet might write after having had his manuscript rejected.) But I'd urge another point of view.
Poetry is a marriage of art and concision. Sometimes it seems the art of concision. Among literary forms, the sonnet strikes me as consistently the most miraculous, and the most miraculous of sonnets are those few that leave you feeling that a coherent and original conception of the cosmos has been inscribed on a miniature tablet: Frost's "Design," or Hopkins's "God's Grandeur," or Milton's "On His Blindness." When Milton angelically declares, "They also serve who only stand and wait," he gives us, in a single pentameter line, a prescriptive theory of human and divine judgment.
Efficiency? Effectiveness? What could be a more effective and efficient human interchange than the one in which someone you've never met offers you, in a tidy package of fourteen lines--a gift whose unwrapping will require no more than a minute or two--an intact and insightful new vantage on the universe?