If your youth is or was charmed as mine and that of a million others was by 'The Golden Road to Samarkand', you may enjoy recalling that this alluring poem is a hundred years old this year. In our ardent teens, it thrills with its celebration of adventure. When life knocks us around later, we may dismiss it as the prating of an impractical fool and crossly tell ourselves that its author, James Elroy Flecker, died at thirty, so what did he know? But in that short time, he went to Oxford and Cambridge, wrote poetry, served in the consular service in the Eastern Mediterranean, fell in love on a ship to Athens, married the girl he romanced on deck and died in Davos of tuberculosis. His early death was mourned as the greatest loss to English poetry since that of John Keats. A verse from 'Samarkand' is enshrined by a British Army air service regiment and by the New Zealand Special Air Service.
I suspect Flecker's poem endures as a secret spell or charm for incurable romantics everywhere and I witnessed how it made a very nice young American at the Samarkand Music Festival in '99 fall instantly in love and propose to a lovely Uzbek girl right there. We were a happy, friendly jumble of nationalities that golden summer in Samarkand and some of the young cynics and older, wiser ones shook their heads in concern. But as a regular leaper-off-cliffs in work choices, I thought it quite splendid of them.
Older now, if not noticeably wiser, I still think it's all right to be a risk-taker. I remain of the view that if you don't have ideas and don't combine the responses of both a sprinter and a long- distance runner, you cannot have a life. Rudyard Kipling's 'If' is nicely jumbled in my head with 'The Golden Road to Samarkand' as a great way to be. The only foolish mistake is to take injustice quietly; you are not going to sit on a higher cloud for being a martyr, you will only achieve your own resentment, fatigue and boredom. There will always be negative energies swirling around and within us; there was a serpent even in Eden. But "We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go/Always a little further: it may be/Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow/Across that angry or that glimmering sea…" Actually, I think it's a very Indian poem.
- Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture