Rabindranath Tagore: Whispers in the Ear of Eternity

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.

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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,

No time.

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

Through beauty.

***

The names you softly

Whispered to your love

On moonlit nights in secret chambers live on

Here

As whispers in the ear of eternity.

The poignant gentleness of love

Flowered into the beauty of serene stone.

Poet-Emperor,

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

Of history?

That even today it has not escaped by the liberating path

Of forgetfulness?

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”

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Photos courtesy Lisl Zlitni.

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4 thoughts on “Rabindranath Tagore: Whispers in the Ear of Eternity

  1. Wow! Tagore is that guy on the wall at B&N! Who knew he wrote such long poems. This is a FABulous blog, btw. Instead of sleeping, you’re thinking deeeeeep thoughts. Just like Jack Handy. Only deeper and bigger. Your English majorness has served you well. So there is yet another job for English majors: Blog scribe. We must chat about reading, intellectualism and snobbery. I know a great place to meet. Well, two great places. One with tea, the other with coffee.

    1. No place with tea AND coffee? I’m having a distinct sense of deja vu, as if we have exchanged those very lines on occasion, long ago, perhaps one dark night when the mists rolled in on cat feet, with Death Stalker in hot pursuit, trying to “save the gull”–or at least offer her a crunchy pillow seeing how he failed to match one half of Grandma’s ring with the other.
      Do MST3K references destroy all credibility of literary snootiness? Or was it my failure to know Jack Handy?
      Oh and btw, the poem is a LOT longer than this 😛 Thanks for the compliments and where are these fantastic places?

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