The experience of exile is more common than we would think, touching lives in innumerable ways. To become adept with the language of exile is to recognize both ends of the spectrum, the large-scale atrocities, history’s violent tears in the fabric of nations and communities, as well as the small-scale, quieter exiles of heart, and mind, and soul, those which can be no less painful or heartbreaking to the person living them.
Exile is an individual, human experience, one that resonates, even if only for a moment, within all of us. The wanderer, the stranger, the exile, has acquired an archetypal status in our texts, no different from the hero, the villain, or the lover. The breadth and popularity of exile literature stems from its universality, the fact that exile is an integral component to the overall human condition.
"We are exiles from our mother’s womb, from our childhood, from private happiness, from peace, even if we are not exiles in the more conventional sense of the word...The feeling of looking back for the last time, of setting our face to a new and possibly hostile world is one we all know. It is the human condition; and the great upheavals of history have merely added physical expression to an inner fact."
- The Oxford Book of Exile
“You shall leave everything loved most dearly, and this is the shaft of which the bow of exile shoots first. You shall prove how salt is the taste of another man’s bread and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs."
- Dante, "Paradiso"
“Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” Thus Genesis, on humankind’s first exiles. Since then, is there anyone who does not – in some way, on some level –feel that they are in exile? We feel ejected from our first homes and landscapes, from childhood, from our first family romance, from our authentic self. We feel there is an ideal sense of belonging, of community, of attunement with others and at-homeness with ourselves, that keeps eluding us. The tree of life is barred to us by a flaming sword, turning this way and that to confound us and make the task of approaching it harder."
"To be sure, in our human condition, it takes long, strenuous work to find the wished-for terrains of safety or significance or love. And it may often be easier to live in exile with a fantasy of paradise than to suffer the inevitable ambiguities and compromises of cultivating actual, earthly places. And yet, without some move of creating homing structures for ourselves, we risk a condition of exile that we do not even recognize as banishment."
- "The New Nomads," from Letters of Transit
"What makes exile the pernicious thing it is is not really is not really the state of being away, as much as the impossibility of ever not being away – not just being absent, but never being able to redeem this absence.”
- "Permanent Transients," from Letters of Transit
"In the disappearance of small things, I read the tokens of my own dislocation, of my own transiency. An exile reads change the way he reads time, memory, self, love, fear, beauty: in the key of loss."
- "Shadow Cities," from Letters of Transit
“In any case see to it that
my bones are returned in a little urn so that I might not, although dead,
remain an exile." - "Tristia"
"He who is alone often lives to find favor, mildness of the Lord, even though he has long had to stir with his arms the frost-cold sea, troubled in heart over the water-way had to tread the tracks of exile… Fate the mighty; and storms beat on the stone walls, snow, the herald of winter, falling thick binds the earth when darkness comes and the night-shadow falls, sends harsh hailstones from the north in hatred of men. All earth’s kingdom is wretched, the world beneath the skies is changed by the work of the fates"
- "The Wanderer," Author Unknown
"The deepest need of man, then, is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness. The absolute failure to achieve this aim means insanity, because the panic of complete isolation can be overcome only by such a radical withdrawal from the world outside that the feelings of separation disappears-because the world outside, from which one is separated, has disappeared."
"Instead of possibilities I have realities in my past...of work done, of love loved, of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are the things which cannot inspire envy."
- Man's Search for Meaning
More on Exile
- Beauty and the Beast as an Exile Narrative
Variations of the familiar fairy tale Beauty and the Beast exist in cultures around the world. While the details may differ, the common thread is a courtship and marriage of a human woman with an animal...
- My Fascination With Exile Literature
My interest in the theme of exile began with a course called The Human Experience of Exile. Suddenly, aspects of life that had previously seemed confusing or indefinable seemed to make sense when viewed within...
d on July 05, 2013:
death is my only way out of the hurt caused by family
ahorseback on November 06, 2010:
Anaya ' this is facinating stuff. Well done.
Rebecca E. from Canada on November 02, 2010:
a well written hub, i hub hopped on to this one.
Anaya M. Baker (author) from North Carolina on November 02, 2010:
Thanks for the kind feedback!
The (semi)short version: I stumbled on the concept of exile in a class a few years back. It made a lot of sense to me on two levels:
1) My mom is American but my dad is Irish. I was born in England but grew up in the States. My dad always resented living here, and I had to deal with a lot of his frustrations growing up, as well as struggling with issues of identity - American vs. something else.
2) More personally, the idea of exile really helped me to understand my own struggles to find my way in the world. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, all that good stuff we have to go through in life.
Looking at exile resounded for me on so many levels, and I began to find more comfort and answers in exile literature and concepts than in more traditional philosophies, religion, or psychology. Looking more deeply into exile helped me to put a finger on ideas and concerns that I'd never really been able to pin down or identify before, and the fact that it seemed to be a universal theme fascinated me...
I actually had a piece in the works about my interest in exile. I was going to put it on my blog, but after reading your comment I thought it might work better as a hub- so I just put it up here if anyone is interested:)
ilmdamaily from A forgotten corner of a dying empire. OK, it's Australia :-) on November 01, 2010:
I find much to relate to in these quotes, as i'm sure many do.
I notice in your profile that much of your education has focused on the concept of the exile - or being exiled - ...may I ask, what prompted your interest in this angle of human experience?
Great work - am looking forward to more:-)