Study Guide

A Border Passage Song of the Reed

By Leila Ahmed

Song of the Reed

If you're a fan of William Blake (and if you're not, it's probably only because you haven't had your mind blown by him yet), you'll be acquainted with the reed pipe as a symbol for the poet or the poetic art.

Ahmed taps into the song of the reed pipe—this time, from the poetry of Rumi—to talk about the creative process of remembering. Pipe music is melancholy, just the sort of thing to make you feel pensive and nostalgic:

[...] the reed forever laments the living earth that it once knew, crying out, whenever life is breathed into it, its ache and its yearning and loss. (5)

The music of the reed pipe, which Ahmed remembers hearing around her at Ain Shams, opens the door of memory and makes her want to get down to the nitty-gritty of her life. In her philosophy (and Rumi's), remembering is a natural reflex for humans since we have the urge to make sense of the drama of our lives:

We too live our lives haunted by loss, we too [...] remember a condition of completeness that we once knew but have forgotten that we ever knew. The song of the reed and the music that haunts our lives is the music of loss, of loss and remembrance. (5)

Ahmed spends most of her time away from her homeland, though she's forever marked by her identity as an Egyptian and by her experiences with her family there. For her, remembering the past means reclaiming her identity. And it's a way of helping her better understand who she is in the present—and how she got to the place she's in now.

As an echo of memory, the song of the reed is kind of sad. As she begins her autobiography, Ahmed knows that this work of "personal archaeology" will be an emotional wrecking ball for her.

But it's just in the nature of humans to need to get back to the beginning of their path, no matter how difficult.