Recently, in a posting on past-life regression, I somewhat rashly concluded: "I will save for another occasion ... a description of what might be a fragmentary past-life memory firmly lodged in my mind." I am here keeping my word, and I think it's an interesting story.
As far back as childhood, I periodically recalled this phrase:
Low, low, breathe and blow,
Wind of the western sea!
It didn't have the quality of just another old but ordinary memory, like something a grade-school teacher had once said. The words had a haunting quality. Although clear, they seemed to come from very far away in time, wrapped in an aura of strange significance.
Adding yet another coat of oddity, the words ringing in my mind were set to music. I could have, still can, hum the tune (no doubt off-pitch).
After I began studying psychical research, it occurred to me at some point that the phrase might be a legacy of a previous incarnation. Something about it suggested 19th century England, which has always exerted a special fascination for me.
A mystery that would never be solved in this life -- that was the state of play until not long ago. And then magical information technology arose. Not expecting any meaningful result, I Googled the phrase. And was properly astonished at what I learned.
The words are from a poem titled "The Princess: Sweet and Low" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. You can read it here.
I am keen on Tennyson. It says a lot about the good taste of the Victorians, who are much abused in our day, that they recognized and honored his brilliance. But I have read only a fraction of his prolific output, and didn't remember "The Princess: Sweet and Low" at all.
Of course, when I learned the source of my wispy memory, I considered possible non-paranormal explanations. I might have read it in school or college, although I never took a class specific to Tennyson or his era. I doubt that my largely wasted education introduced me to any but his really famous poems, like "In Memorium" and "Ulysses."
I grew up in a house with lots of books, but I remembered no Tennyson anthology. Besides, from an early age I was hooked on science fiction (favorite authors: Robert A. Heinlein and Fredric Brown), which left little time for soaking up poetry -- which, like most kids, I didn't care for.
I asked my mother recently if we had had some volume when I was growing up that might have included the poem. She thought not, although there was a collection of English literature. But it seems unlikely it would have contained a relatively obscure piece like "The Princess: Sweet and Low," or that I would have run across it, or been taken by its mother-and-child theme.
So, locked on target: a probable past-life memory! I have had almost no paranormal experiences in my life, but this one seemed to be a cracker.
Until, that is, the next time I phoned my mother. She had looked up the poem, and remembered often singing it to me as a lullaby to soothe me into sleep. This began when I was perhaps six months old, she said.
My long-cherished theory suddenly fell apart. It was a case of cryptomnesia, wherein something once known is forgotten by the conscious mind, but much later emerges, usually under hypnosis. Skeptics maintain that all so-called past life regressions are based on the phenomenon -- a few facts or a story plot long hidden in the depths of the psyche, woven into a dramatic "earlier incarnation" when encouraged by the hypnotist.
But as I said, the fragment from Tennyson popped up many times throughout the years, and not while I was hypnotized. I now accept the cryptomnesia explanation, but it remains puzzling. Why did these particular words linger and recur when I have no conscious memories of other, and probably more significant, events of that period in my remote past? If my mother is right about the timing, I would not even have understood the words.
Many researchers say that children remember bits of past incarnations up to about the age of seven, the memories then fading out as they are replaced by new experiences in the present life. Did Tennyson's lines make such an impression because they reminded my then-little self of something remembered at the time from another life?
Maybe that's another fantasy, ginned up to compensate for the loss of my previous paranormal explanation. Or a scrap of another time and place, carried in my soul through time, on the wind of an unknown western sea.