Akbar’s Dream

Reading my way towards Tennyson’s Akbar’s Dream I find myself absorbed in The Death of Oenone. The volume that contains both was the last book of the poet’s work published in his lifetime. His art manifests itself there as a gathering of the past and a casting out towards the future. The Death of Oenone gathers the past as a narrative of dejection. The Trojan War is the background for Oenone’s grief. Seamus Heaney explored an earlier phase of the story in his account of The Cure at Troy. The cure in question was that of the archer Philoctetes, whose arrows were destined to leave Paris mortally wounded. And Paris would beg in vain for his wife – Oenone – to use her skills as a healer to save him. By contrast, in Akbar’s Dream Tennyson casts forward from the new age he was helping to define in the 1890s to the new age of the 1960s where spiritual hope seemed to flutter for the West in the form of Zen and Sufism. As I write I hear that the Sufi singer Amjad Sabri has been killed in Karachi. I am struck again by the words of another murdered Sufi: ‘Sometimes I frequent the Christian cloister and sometimes the mosque / But it is Thou whom I search for from temple to temple / Thine elect have no dealings with heresy or orthodoxy / For of these neither stands behind the screen of thy truth / Speculation to the heretic, theology to the orthodox / But the dust of the rose petal belongs to the heart of the perfume seller.’ Tennyson uses a version of those words to introduce Akbar’s Dream.

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