Monday, May 3, 2010

Gypsy Song

In my life, I've travelled quite a bit and lived amongst peoples that were not my own. As a consequence, I don't feel like I wholly belong to any one community anywhere in the world, that nowhere is home for too long, a thought that is devastating to one's physical body. During one phase of my life that lasted 10 years, my only constant companion were the thoughts in my head, and in that time, I lived in and visited various towns and cities, and wondered about a great many things. I have never quite been able to explain the workings of this sort of a life and how its mute visages never cease to beckon in dreams until I came across the following paragraphs from Lafcadio Hearn's short story, 'A Ghost'. Seeing my thoughts exactly reflected in the words of a writer who died a hundred years ago set my mind at ease and, for the first time, granted me the comfort of finally belonging, even if it be somewhere beyond the physical world.

"...Oh! the first vague charm, the first sunny illusion of some fair city - when vistas of unknown streets all seem leading to the realisation of a hope you dare not even whisper; when even the shadows look beautiful, and strange facades appear to smile good omen through lights of gold! And those first winning relations with men, while you are still a stranger, and only the better and the brighter side of their nature is turned to you!...All is yet a delightful, luminous indefiniteness - sensation of streets and of men - like some beautifully tinted photograph slightly out of focus...

Then the slow solid sharpening of details all about you thrusting through illusion and dispelling it, growing keener and harder day by day, through long dull seasons, while your feet learn to remember all asperities of pavements, and your eyes all physiognomy of buildings and of persons, failures of masonry, furrowed lines of pain. Thereafter only the aching of monotony intolerable, and the hatred of sameness grown dismal, and dread of the merciless, inevitable, daily and hourly repetition of things while those impulses of unrest, which are Nature's urgings through that ancestral experience which lives in each one of us - outcries of sea and peak and sky to man - ever make wider appeal....Strong friendships may have been formed but there finally comes a day when even those can give no consolation for the pain of monotony, and you feel that in order to live you must decide, regardless of result, to shake for ever from your feet the familiar dust of that place....

And, nevertheless, in the hour of departure you feel a pang. As train or steamer bears you away from the city and its myriad associations, the old illusive impression will quiver back about you for a moment - not as if to mock the expectation of the past, but softly, touchingly, as if pleading to you to stay; and such a sadness, such a tenderness may come to you, as one knows after reconciliation with a friend misapprehended and unjustly judged....But you will never more see those streets - except in dreams.

Through sleep only they will open again before you; steeped in the illusive vagueness of the first long-past day; peopled only by friends outreaching to you. Soundlessly you will tread those shadowy pavements many times, to knock in thought, perhaps, at doors which the dead will open to you....But with the passing of years all becomes dim - so dim that even asleep you know 'tis only a ghost-city, with streets going to nowhere. And finally whatever is left of it becomes confused and blended with cloudy memories of other cities - one endless bewilderment of filmy architecture in which nothing is distinctly recognisable, though the whole gives the sensation of having been seen before...ever so long ago.

Meantime, in the course of wanderings more or less aimless, there has slowly grown upon you a suspicion of being haunted - so frequently does a certain hazy presence intrude itself upon the visual memory. This, however, appears to gain rather than to lose in definiteness: with each return its visibility seems to increase....And the suspicion that you may be haunted gradually develops into a certainty."

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