Pierre Ryckmans was born in Belgium, married in Hong Kong, and spent most of his adult life settled in Australia. He taught Chinese studies at the Australian National University and is the author of over 20 works in English and French. He even supervised former Australian Prime Minster, Kevin Rudd, for his honours thesis on Chinese literature and history. He passed away at the age of 78 in Australia.
His last published work was a collection of short essays; The Hall of Uselessness: Selected Essays, 2011. His essay, Memento Mori, is a discussion about the convoluted and perplexing nature of time and how humans pass through it.
We never cease to be astonished at the passing of time: “Look at him! Only yesterday, it seems, he was still a tiny kid, and now he is bald, with a big mustache; a married man and a father!” This shows clearly that time is not our natural element: would a fish ever be surprised by the wetness of water? For our true motherland is eternity; we are the mere passing guests of time. Nevertheless, it is within the bonds of time that man builds the cathedral of Chartres, paints the Sistine Chapel and plays the seventh string of the zither – which inspired William Blake’s luminous intuition: “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”
These profound words struck me as honest and bittersweet. We are bound to time despite our inability to understand it. Its wonder, cruelty, and beauty perplex and comfort us as we pass through eternity. “Our true motherland is eternity.”