in other words

I’ve been reading more poetry lately.

I’d like to consume poetry for a living.

sometimes on love and loneliness

Poetry from the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) has especially been attractive these last few days. I think it has something to do with the cadence of translation. Maybe the universality of things like loneliness. Definitely the imagery.

From a pot of wine among the flowers

I drank alone. There was no one with me –

Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon

To bring me my shadow and make us three.

Alas, the moon was unable to drink

And my shadow tagged me vacantly;

But still for a while I had these friends

To cheer me through the end of spring. …

I sang. The moon encouraged me.

I danced. My shadow tumbled after.

As long as I knew, we were boon companions.

And then I was drunk, and we lost one another.

…Shall goodwill ever be secure?

I watch the long road of the River of Stars.

Li Bai. Drinking alone under the moon, Li Bai’s middle period (724-755 CE). Translation by Bynner.

There are more promising translations to the last two lines of Li Bai’s Drinking alone under the moon. Derbyshire translates it as “Lost to wordly things, until some day / We’ll meet again, beyond the Milky Way.” Bowles translates this as “Bound forever, relentless we roam: / reunited at last on the distant river of stars.

I listened to several recordings of the poem. I wish I could read (imperial) Chinese.

Regardless of translation, the poem is beautiful. Even with just this piece, Li Bai truly is one of the greatest poets of the Tang dynasty.

I may not drink alcohol, but we all know of things that can blur the lines between loneliness and companionship.

No water is enough when you have crossed the sea,

No cloud is beautiful but that which crowns the peak.

I pass by flowers that fail to attract poor me,

Half for your sake and half for Taoism I seek.

Yuan Zhen. Think of my Dear Wife, sometime after he got married probably

The endless amount of nature metaphors in ancient and imperial Chinese poetry delights me. The poet Yuan Zhen may or may not be talking about the Wu Mountain… until you see the title, and really he’s just waxing on about his wife. Same.

Most of the poetry I’ve written in the past few weeks have also been drowning in lakes and mountains. Also in some sort of love.

Other people too have friends that they love;

But ours was a love such as few friends have known.

You were all my sustenance; it mattered more

To see you daily than to get my morning food.

And if there was a single day when we did not meet

I would sit listless, my mind in a tangle of gloom.

To think we are now thousands of miles apart,

Lost like clouds, each drifting on his far way!

Those clouds on high, where many winds blow,

What is their chance of ever meeting again?

And if in open heaven the beings of the air

Are driven and thwarted, what of Man below?

Yuan Zhen. To Bo Juyi, 816 CE. Translation by Howard S. Levy / Arthur Walley.

Yuan Zhen’s wife died too soon, and he wrote three elegies memorialized in Bynner’s anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems.

At least he still had his dear friend and contemporary poet Bo Juyi. #BisexualPoets

Though neither you nor I saw flowering pistachio trees

in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, though neither

you nor I saw the Tigris River stained with ink,

though we never heard a pistachio shell dehisce,

we have taken turns holding a panda as it munched

on bamboo leaves, and I know that rustle now.

I have awakened beside you and inhaled August

sunlight in your hair. I’ve listened to the scroll

and unscroll of your breath

Arthur Sze. Transfigurations, 2019.

(This is clearly not from the Tang dynasty.)

Am I too romantic to think that the best time of the day for lovers is the morning?

The singular pleasures of waking up beside someone you love, choosing to sleep in or get up, deciding what to do later together tonight, cooking them breakfast? Being the reason for their first smile of the day…

sometimes on existence

We live in very odd times.

By convention sweet and by convention bitter,

by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color;

but in reality atoms and void

Democritus (born 460 BCE). As cited in Diels-Kranz’ Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. Translation by C C.W. Taylor.

A dog has two types of cone cells in their retina. One perceives yellow; the other perceives blue. Humans have three, allowing us to see the colors red, green and blue. The mantis shrimp has twelve types of cone cells. What can they see?

Everything can be argued to be convention, limited by our own imagination and directed by tradition. Finding reason and meaning is tricky in the full extent of Democritus’ reality, but not impossible.

Where, before me, are the ages that have gone?

And where, behind me, are the coming generations?

I think of heaven and earth, without limit, without end,

And I am all alone and my tears fall down.

Chen Ziang. On a gate-tower at Yuzhou, sometime in 661-702 CE. Translated by Witter Bynner.

I have several recurring dreams –or nightmares? One of them involves dreaming of myself in the middle of the vastness of space. Infinity feels like unrelenting pressure.

We are really very small. I can almost taste the despair.

There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.

Shel Silverstein. Every Thing On It, 2011 (published posthumously).

Everyone needs more Shel Silverstein in their life, I think. The year 2020 has been a very unhappy story so far.

sometimes on poetry

If only I had known utterances and exotic phrases in a new language that does not pass away, free form repetition, without a single phrase of tired speech that has already been spoken by the ancestors! I will squeeze out what is in my body to strain out all my words. For what has already been said can only be repeated; what has been said has been said. It is no boast to say of the ancestors’ words that their descendants find them still useful.

Khakheperraseneb. The Words of Khakeperraseneb, possibly 18th century BCE.

Same, dear Middle Egyptian scribe. Same.

One Comment Add yours

  1. jesha says:

    !!! You’re writing poetry again! Aaahhh that’s great. And this is beautiful, too, thank you.

    Looking forward to when untired speech is shared again. <3

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