February 14, 2018

Memory - "As we held faithfulness, you and I"

Edmund Dulac, Rubaiyat
How I loved you in your sleep,
   With the starlight on your hair!

    The touch of your lips was sweet,
        Aziza whom I adore,
    I lay at your slender feet,
        And against their soft palms pressed,
    I fitted my face to rest.
    As winds blow over the sea
        From Citron gardens ashore,
    Came, through your scented hair,

        The breeze of the night to me.    
 My lips grew arid and dry,
        My nerves were tense,
    Though your beauty soothe the eye
        It maddens the sense.
    Every curve of that beauty is known to me,
    Every tint of that delicate roseleaf skin,
        And these are printed on every atom of me,
    Burnt in on every fibre until I die.
        And for this, my sin,
    I doubt if ever, though dust I be,
    The dust will lose the desire,
    The torment and hidden fire,
    Of my passionate love for you.
        Aziza whom I adore,

    My dust will be full of your beauty, as is the blue
    And infinite ocean full of the azure sky.

    In the light that waxed and waned
    Playing about your slumber in silver bars,
    As the palm trees swung their feathery fronds athwart the stars,
    How quiet and young you were,
    Pale as the Champa flowers, violet veined,
    That, sweet and fading, lay in your loosened hair.

    How sweet you were in your sleep,
    With the starlight on your hair!
    Your throat thrown backwards, bare,
    And touched with circling moonbeams, silver white
        On the couch's sombre shade.
    O Aziza my one delight,
    When Youth's passionate pulses fade,
    And his golden heart beats slow,
    When across the infinite sky
    I see the roseate glow
    Of my last, last sunset flare,
    I shall send my thoughts to this night
    And remember you as I die,
    The one thing, among all the things of this earth, found fair.

    How sweet you were in your sleep,
    With the starlight, silver and sable, across your hair!

As readers we are privileged guests on a scene of exotic intimacy.  The image of the girl's tender pale throat thrown back in the moonlight in careless abandonment to sleep is a testament to her total trust of the observing lover.  This is the way things are after the feasting, the dancing girls, and the tales of a thousand and one nights are told;  after the wine, wooing and the lovemaking, there is the deeper night, and deep sleep and dreams.   For the narrator, the dream is to stay awake in order to stamp this quietly powerful moment upon their soul, rendered in bars of moonlight and palm frond shadows.    

The idea of adoring a sleeping lover so tenderly, and committing a moment to memory so thoroughly that it may be revisited again and again, even at the point of death, elevates this poem into the top sphere of Hope's works for me, in the company of The Teak Forest, and Unforgotten

Edmund Dulac,  "Sleeve of Night"
"Memory" is one of the poet's rare pieces in which all is well with the Beloved and the speaker - there is no philosophical angst, separation or sadness.  The lush peace of satisfaction is captured in this one fragrant and perfect night - the night that has been prayed for many times and finally granted. 

The long unloosed stanzas remind one of phrases voiced in Muslim devotional songs and Urdu love songs, and the form of the final stanza is discussed in this post, though I feel that Memory was likely an original work inspired by Prayer, and less likely to be a direct translation.

I have also discussed some of the parlour gossip regarding the possible lesbianism of Laurence Hope, or rather Mrs. Adela Nicolson.   Since the poet used a male nom de plum, it seems logical that the writer expected the public to assume a male wrote to and was speaking to Aziza.  Whether the poet herself had any attraction to women, or simply a fascination with Beauty in all its forms, will always be a point of conjecture. 

To add to the confusion, I have found in two separate print runs at least that the British publishers actually published this poem using the male name Aziz, not the feminine Aziza.  Aziza is used in the American and Gutenberg versions.  Who made the decisions to use these different forms and why may well now be lost to history, but one may assume that since the poem was originally printed in Britain, Hope originally used "Aziz".  This of course casts yet another fishing line into the swirling pool of Violet/Laurence Hope's gender/identity/narrator questions around Aziz/a

In the end, the gender questions are far less important than the essential thrust of the poem, so to speak, which is the expression of a privately held sense of fidelity to the Beloved.  The title "Memory" emphasizes the idea that we, the audience, are not witnessing a scene in the present, but immersed in a remembered moment.  The speaker has made a sublime pledge to return in memory to this perfect crystallized instant at the point of death - an ultimate form of honor given to the Beloved.  It is the type of personally held inner faithfulness that Hope speaks of, for example, in Yasmini and Unforgotten, which contains the line of this blog title "As we held faithfulness, you and I".   It is a very genuine and unorthodox type of personal faithfulness, requiring no absolution by any holy institution or man-made law.
This pledge, given in the same good faith as a betrothal, elevates a night of passion far above carnality, and is intended to be carried through life with a loyalty stronger than that found in many marriages. 

NOTE:  "Memory" is recorded in the fifth section of India's Love Lyrics and may be listened to here.  This is a sneak preview, and will not be available  on Librivox until the entire book has been recorded. 

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