I Know But Too Well What They Mean
by Max Reif
Reprinted from To the Friends of Meher Baba (English newsletter), Summer 2010
Over the years I’ve read several essays on the meaning of “Begin the Beguine.” I don’t remember reading anything, though, about how utterly unusual are the lyrics of this song which Beloved Baba chose to call attention to, out of all songs in Creation, by having it played several times upon the dropping of His human form.
Baba’s pointing to “Begin the Beguine” is reminiscent of His calling attention to the three lines from Hafiz which He directed to have written on a chalk board shortly before dropping His body. The curious thing about “Begin the Beguine,” however, is that its words do not enshrine the value of obedience, which Baba stressed again and again during His Advent, and which the Hafiz lines poetically render. It is, rather, a song about failure! The bloom of Love, through some untold mishandling by the lover, has withered. The fullness of Love has become “the chance that was wasted”! The lyrics go on to describe how, miraculously, even such wasting can be redeemed.
What Grace! How glorious that my Beloved knows I am human and that His incredible, infinite Love — even that — will inevitably slip through my fingers. He Knows that I will be left helplessly wondering where it went, and that I will revive those “moments divine,” that “rapture serene,” over and over in the treasure-house of memory, re-living them as fully as I can each time.
But how does even one who has squandered Love’s Treasure, and may spend years tending a few divine embers, enable those embers to burst into bright, hot flame once again? What is the secret? Baba has certainly given us a clue in adopting Cole Porter’s lyrics so profusely, directing our awareness toward them in such bold relief.
The song does not say precisely how this transformation happens, and perhaps it cannot be said. In the drama of the lyrics as they unfold, we learn only that it does happen. The closest we can come to expressing the “how” of it, probably, is via the word “longing.”
But what longing! The protagonist singing “Begin the Beguine” comes to view the past through a lens of longing that is so powerful and focused it calls down a miracle of Grace that will re-vivify that timeless experience of Union, bringing it to life again in the Present!
“Oh, yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play,
Till the stars that were there before return above you,
Till You whisper to me once more, ‘Darling, I love you,’
And we suddenly know
What heaven we’re in…”
Anyone who has ever tasted Meher Baba’s Love knows we are in Heaven, or something beyond … that the tamash (show) of this world is, in Ramakrishna’s words, “a framework of illusion, but also a mansion of mirth.” We know that Love alone is real and all else, actually, so unreal as to be not even a worthy distraction.
And yet we often find ourselves lost to the conscious experience of the Love which had seemed so easy and natural, with no apparent way back. In “Begin the Beguine,” Baba tells us: “Yes, I am here, hidden in the Dream, no matter how barren or even nightmarish it may sometimes seem. Long for Me with all your heart — and I shall be yours again!”