The statements that we are going to discuss are of tremendous profoundness, and about the most mysterious subject: time. We all think we know time; we have taken it for granted. There are people who are playing cards, going to the movies, and if you ask them, “What are you doing?” they don’t hesitate in saying that they are “killing time.” They don’t know what time is.
Down the centuries thousands of philosophers have pondered and contemplated the subject, but nothing very tangible has come into the hands of humanity. But these statements are not from a philosopher, these statements are from a poet who knows the beauty of language.
Once in a while, when his mystic is a little awake, a window opens into the unknown. He catches a glimpse and he is articulate enough to bring that glimpse into words, to translate it into such words that perhaps he himself may not be able to explain what he means.
It happened once… A professor of English in the University of London was stuck at a certain point while he was teaching the poems of Coleridge, one of the great poets of England. The professor must have been very honest. Ordinarily professors are never honest; even if they don’t understand, they go on pretending that they understand. Even if they don’t know, they never say, “I don’t know.”
It is rare to find a professor who can say, “Forgive me, I can understand the words but I cannot catch the meaning behind them. So just give me a day’s time, because Coleridge lives in my neighborhood so it is not a difficult problem. I will go to him and ask him directly, ‘What do you mean? I understand the beauty of your words, the linguistic meaning of your words, but that is not all. I feel continually that something is missing, that I am missing the real meaning and the significance. I am able to catch hold of the rose, but the fragrance simply eludes me – and the fragrance is the significance of the rose.’”
The next day he approached Coleridge. He was watering his plants in the garden – an old man. The professor said, “Forgive me for disturbing you, but it has become absolutely necessary for me. I cannot be dishonest to my students. If I know something, I say I know; if I do not know, I cannot pretend. Although they will not be able to figure out, they will not be able to see that they have been deceived, I can see that I am deceiving them.
“This is your poem and this is the part where I am stuck. The whole night I tried to figure it out. I have found layers upon in it – but still the meaning is missing. So I have come to ask you: What is the meaning of these words?”
Coleridge said, “You are asking a very difficult question. At the time when I wrote this poem, two persons knew the meaning.”
The professor was very happy. He said, “Then there is no problem. I don’t care about the other person – just tell me what the meaning is.”