Recently I had the great privilege and honor to review Paula Lofting’s debut novel, Sons of the Wolf. I found much to admire in the book, not least the characters whose words are spoken to each other as well as across time. I am a big believer in paying special care and attention to what concerned our ancestors, for it all influenced their actions and resulted in the world they gifted to us. In turn, our children shall be the beneficiaries.
One character in particular expresses a sentiment that resonated with me, deeply: “In time we are all just whispers in the wind[.]” The duality of this statement strikes me so deeply because it has affected every person who ever lived, as one day it will each of us. The question that remains is: How?
The Russians say that no one really ever dies as long as there is someone to remember the person who has left this world. Rabindranath Tagore, however, refers to forgetfulness as a “liberating path.” As we make our way along that road, kicking up dust kicked up by so many others before, what does the wind blow our way, and how much of it will we hear? How open are we to what is being said? As whispers are buoyed along the wind, will we even recognize that they carry memories of what once was of vast importance in the lives of those whose world we were given?
When I read those words of Aemund’s, I thought of something I’d written previously that concerned itself greatly with memories, part of which entailed study of Tagore, whose poem “Shah Jahan” explores the creation of the greatest and grandest memorial the world has ever seen.
I have chosen some of the most poignant passages, the messages of which are very telling in terms of questioning how any given moment occurs and then, as Freyda contemplates, are “gone like whispers in the wind.” Shah Jahan understands this transience, and attempts to conquer it.
You knew, Emperor of India, Shah-Jahan,
That life, youth, wealth, renown
All float away down the stream of time.
Your only dream
Was to preserve forever your heart’s pain.
The harsh thunder of imperial power
Would fade into sleep
Like a sunset’s crimson splendour,
But it was your hope
That at least a single, eternally-heaved sigh would stay
To grieve the sky.
Though emeralds, rubies, pearls are all
But as the glitter of a rainbow tricking out empty air
And must pass away,
Yet still one solitary tear
Would hang on the cheek of time
In the form
Of this white and gleaming Taj Mahal.
O human heart,
You have no time
To look back at anyone again,
You are driven by life’s quick spate
On and on from landing to landing.
Thus, Emperor, you wished,
Fearing your own heart’s forgetfulness,
To conquer time’s heart
The names you softly
Whispered to your love
On moonlit nights in secret chambers live on
As whispers in the ear of eternity.
The poignant gentleness of love
Flowered into the beauty of serene stone.
This is your heart’s picture,
Your new Meghaduta,
Soaring with marvellous, unprecedented melody and line
Towards the unseen plane
On which your loverless beloved
And the first glow of sunrise
And the last sigh of sunset
And the disembodied body of the moonlit cameli-flower
And the gateway on the edge of language
That turns away man’s wistful gaze again and again
Are all blended.
This beauty is your messenger,
Skirting time’s sentries
To carry the wordless message:
‘I have not forgotten you, my love, I have not forgotten you.’
Lies! Lies! Who says you have not forgotten?
Who says you have not thrown open
The cage that holds memory?
That even today your heart wards off
The ever-falling darkness
That even today it has not escaped by the liberating path
Tombs remain forever with the dust of this earth:
It is death
That they carefully preserve in a casing of memory.
But who can hold life?
‘Towards the gate of dawn
I remain here weighted with memory:
He is free of burdens, he is no longer here.’
—Rabindranath Tagore, “Shah Jahan”
Photos courtesy Lisl Zlitni.