Editorial"O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may'st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe;
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers."
- William Blake, To Autumn
How fast the days pass! Three years now Bygone Days has been kicking up her heels. Nothing to sneeze at here on the ephemeral Web, and yet... a mere eye-blink!
Ever-changing Autumn, that blooms even as it withers. Just as when we began our journey together, we inhabit an uncertain and changeable world. I was recently moved to tears watching a television program that showed the first ever truck-navigable road encroaching on Mustang, an isolated Nepalese kingdom. Rendered on mud and plaster walls in the gompa (monastery) of Thubchen in Lo Manthang are a series of 15th century paintings depicting the life of the Buddha. Trucks passing along the new road may generate daily tremours not unlike a series of small earthquakes. Will the walls of the gompa stand and retain their treasures, or crumble to dust?
Ironically, a group of European art historians have been working to clean and restore the paintings to something resembling their original state. The Europeans will only restore the portions of the artwork that have not crumbled away. The King and local inhabitants want the works restored in their entirety, even if this requires guesswork on the part of the European team. It is an East-West artistic-historical quandary; the Europeans feel a total restoration would violate the integrity of the original works, whereas the Buddhist inhabitants of the kingdom argue that the paintings must be completely restored for the depicted characters to regain their full potency and meaning in the here and now. Yes, these paintings are history, but the locals live in and amidst this history, renewing its meaning each day.
We so often try to crystallize points in history in an attempt to preserve things as they were. Is it possible to walk with the past in our present? Though each moment becomes history as it passes, don't we carry the seeds of 'that which has gone before' within us?
Such thoughts strike a chord in lovers of historical fiction--why is it we find ourselves so intimate with elements of seemingly bygone cultures and lives lived in other ages? Perhaps, as numerous ancient philosophies suggest, Time itself is illusory. Or, having evolved from our past, perhaps we are--in some part--those who have gone before us.
Now, shall we drink and dance with the ancestors?
Ever yours, K.A. Corlett
For more information regarding the program that inspired this editorial, visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tibet/
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