Time and Memory

Time preserves everything, but as it does so, it fades things to the colorlessness of ancient photographs fixed on metal plates. Light and time erase the contours and distinctive shading of the faces. One has to angle the image this way and that until it catches the light in a particular way and one can make out the person whose features have been absorbed into the blank surface of the plate. It is the same with our memories. But then one day light strikes from a certain angle and one recaptures a face again.

The castle was a closed world, like a great granite mausoleum full of the moldering bones of generations of men and women from earlier times, in their shrouds of slowly disintegrating gray silk or black cloth. it enclosed silence itself as if it were a prisoner persecuted for his beliefs, wasting away numbly, unshaven and in rags on a pile of musty rotting straw in a dungeon. It also enclosed memories as if they were the dead, memories that lurked in damp corners the way mushrooms, bats, rats, and beetles lurk in the mildewed cellars of old houses.

It is the kind of idea that comes later to most people. Decades pass, one walks through a darkened room in which someone has died, and suddenly one recalls long forgotten words and the roar of the sea. It’s as if those few words had captured the whole meaning of life, but afterwards one always talks about something else.

Time is a purgatory that has cleansed all fury from my memories.

Sandor Marai,


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