…And the wind lifting the song, and interrupting it,
Tossing it up under the clouds.
And all this comes to an end,
And is not again to be met with…
Exile’s Letter, by Li Po ( c.760 AD), translation by Ezra Pound
I’ve been thinking, perhaps not surprisingly in a life where we are all estranged from normalcy just now, about the concept of exile. It is the dominant theme in my series Empire’s Legacy, although it is explored most strongly in Empire’s Exile and the upcoming Empire’s Passing. I read a number of poems and stories about exile while I was writing Empire’s Exile; about physical banishment, but also about spiritual and psychological exile, because the book isn’t just about being physically outcast. Some of those expressions of exile stayed with me more than others, no more so than a small excerpt from the Chinese poet Li Po’s greatest poem: the idea of a random wind, a random act, (a random virus?) interrupting an idea or a life, ending joy. Very close to the end of my book, I echoed his thoughts in these lines:
A gust of wind rattled the grasses. If he replied, I did not hear the words. I raised my head for one last, long kiss, and then he stood, holding out his hand.
“Time does not stop,” he said, “for all we wish it might.”
Homage to a great poet, but also a purposeful echo. Not one I expect one reader in a thousand to hear, but that’s all right. Sometimes the influences are more obvious; sometimes they’re subtle.
In my 2020 release, Empire’s Reckoning, there is a stronger echo of a classic tale of exile, purposely done. I was acknowledging the importance of a certain – what? – story, mythology, archetype? – in my soul, when I chose to do this. In this case – and I’m not going to tell you what it is – it influenced both how the plot develops and a specific setting in the story. Some readers will see it. Some with recognize a familiarity but won’t quite identify its source. Some may do neither. All of this is, again, all right. Books speak to us on different levels, and writers write on different levels, too, and sometimes we don’t fully know what those are. But it too is about exile.
Edward Said, in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, wrote
“exile is…the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement.”
“Homesickness swept through me, a wave of longing: cianalas, in my tongue,” my narrator Sorley tells us in Empire’s Reckoning. The crippling sorrow of estrangement; the unhealable rift that only compromise and perhaps a reluctant acceptance can even begin to bridge.
I didn’t know I’d release this book into a world forced into involuntary separation and distance, ravaged by political differences, challenged by climate change. We all became homesick now, longing for the world we had. In Li Po’s translated words, again:
If you ask how I regret that parting?
It is like the flowers falling at spring’s end,
Confused, whirled in a tangle.
What is the use of talking? And there is no end of talking—
There is no end of things in the heart.
Featured Image: Marram Grass & Heather: By Peter Standing, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12285747