Beyond the End

The End is a narrative concept. We live our lives forwards, and we make sense of them backwards, through narrative. That is the foundation of biography, which is no more than an ordering of disparate events. So when I say that my year at Cambridge has come to an End, I am fully aware of the artificiality of that statement; and that this is an End that I have, somehow, constructed to fit the narrative arc of my life. This knowledge makes the End no less painful, no more comprehensible than it was before. Truth is skittish, and never stays in close proximity.

To epitomize my year at Cambridge in honour of its End would run the risk of distorting its significance. The crescendos of that symphony would escalate too quickly; the colours of that painting would be too loud. The beauty and the subtlety of everything I have come to love here would grow grotesque, redundant. Still to epitomize my experience is to contain it, to keep it within arm’s length. If, as it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to keep and a time to cast away, then writing is my attempt to grasp the infinitesimal present moment before it is finite, past.

As I walk away from Cambridge, I hear the voices of King’s chapel choir winging their way, like angels, on the wind. I pass from under the shadow of the University Library, opening out towards the fields. There is a solitary tree I love especially, and it gives me comfort, standing there, so beautifully alone. I can’t decide whether the horizon is best described as ‘the edge of day’ or ‘the edge of night’. As a friend explains, this depends on whether day is pictured as a shoreline or a precipice–both metaphors are correct, contingent on perspective.

This is what I love about language, its generative potential: words are both the things we perceive and the things through which we perceive. Good literature engenders multiple perspectives. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year, it’s that education should broaden and never narrow one’s perspective. In the closing paragraph of my dissertation, I quote T. S. Eliot not because his poetry illuminates my topic per se, but because it epitomizes my year at Cambridge. The End is not the End, because I know that when I return to visit Cambridge at night or by day, it will always be the same, and that–

There are other places 
Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws, 
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city– 
But this is the nearest, in place and time, 
Now and in England.


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