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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Thursday, May 16, 2024

But for Tomorrow (by Bei Dao)

The days drift by four ways
An investigation by happenstance
My heart calm as water

That has leached deeply
Into tomorrow's riverflow
Leaving me, exposed

I climbed the foggy peak
And gazed at the moonlight
Suspicious of its many layers

Surely the road exists
The horse's hooves strike loudly
Like a stanza of eternal verse







I haven't read or translated much contemporary Chinese poetry but I think this poem by Bei Dao is exquisite and very much in the Tang spirit, a fine example of poetry made through the process of the distillation of experience, that is to say, first evaporation of something that happened followed by condensation in verse.

And today being my birthday, I had the opportunity to write my own poem in reply to Bei Dao.



time speaks to the best part of me



time speaks 

to the best part of me

come along for the ride


trying to put new meaning 

in an old metaphor is like 

pursuing carbon capture 

after the fuel’s been burned  


I mean it can be done 

But at what expense 

Is it even worth the effort of a poem



Monday, April 29, 2024

Not a Simulation

 Life may not be a simulation but whoever wrote the code came up with some very elegant solutions for advancing game play:

1.  Go out in springtime and throw a handful of seeds on the expectant earth; then sit back to watch the show or else you can play along on your own with a spade and hoe;

2. Later on you gather up food scraps in a stand-alone pile and watch the rules run in reverse.

Play once through and you’re hooked; it ought to be illegal it's so highly addictive.

*****

I wrote this #haibun this morning at the community compost pile after emptying a few bins of scraps from the New Moon restaurant, which means another few weeks of full employment for the maggots and worms here in town. This compost is no simulation either.


Not a simulation



Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A Spring Like None Other




There's no spring other

Than the present one

Rushing back to life

There's no time for regrets

About things left undone

There are only seeds to be sown

And always more shoveling

 

And to make the most 

Of these daylight hours

We too must extend ourselves

A little further every day 

That's what a growing      

Season is all about

A season profuse in 

Blossoms and meaning 

When spring synesthesia

Everywhere abounds

Where daffodils flower  

For three weeks straight

While the magnolia still 

Remains in full glory 

And just now the cherry tree

Has let loose a fusillade

Of white and pink

 

There can be no spring

Other than the present one






Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Mudra

 

The nervous system

Is xylem and phloem

For you and me as

Our vitality rises and

Falls like sap in a tree

And like an old rain barrel

A mudra is poised to capture

The downpour of light

As it falls from the sky

To be held within

However briefly until

It's released again to

Replenish the earth






Thursday, December 28, 2023

Sixty Six (by Bai Juyi)



Through sickness

And recovery

Strength has diminished

With age you feel 

Time’s quickening

58 only yesterday

Today I’m 66


White hair

Adorns my temples

Like fine silk

The grass by

The pond grows

Far more thick and lush

The children have

All grown up

The garden now half

Filled with 

   Thick tree trunks


See how large rocks

Slide down the mountain

And the stream

Penetrates into

The bamboo grove’s depth

 Even when there’s 

But a slow trickle

It sounds

Like a mad rush

Though as long as 

I’ve been listening

I have not yet

Heard enough






六十六


白居易


病知心力减

老觉光阴速

五十八归来

今年六十六


鬓丝千万白

池草八九绿

童稚尽成人

园林半乔木


看山倚高石

引水穿深竹

虽有潺湲声

至今听未足


Tuesday, December 26, 2023

A Drawing of Pine and Bamboo (by Tang Yin)

 Drawing of Pine and Bamboo

 

Tang Yin

 

A brief banquet seated

With birdsong for musical score

I could inscribe my whole life

This way from my heart’s core

 

Yes, my whole life  

Could surely pass this way

With pine and bamboo together

In simple harmony


松竹图

唐寅

 

促席坐鸣琴

写我平生心

 

平生固如此

松竹谐素音






I wonder if this a poem about making or looking at a piece of art.  Remember that Tang Yin was both a poet and a painter and as a result many of his poems were inscribed in his own hand directly alongside one of his paintings. In either case, I wish I could find the image that inspired this poem, but all I could find with my online searching was this drawing of pine and bamboo made at a much later date, I believe, but nonetheless showing pine and bamboo in harmony.





 


Saturday, December 23, 2023

A Picture Too Real (by Tang Yin)

Translating a classical Chinese poem sometimes calls for guesswork, in order to fill in the gaps in my understanding.  These poems are so rich in cultural reference, it's hard for anyone not raised in the tradition to pick up even half the allusions.  Not only that but much classical Chinese poetry is written in a terse or compact style, which makes it inherently subject to more than a single interpretation. At a certain point, you have to be willing to make your own intuitive leap in order to come up with a good reading of the poem.

Even after you make an intuitive leap, though, not everything always neatly lines up with your reading.  It's a bit like trying to hold a cat in a bag, the way the meaning of the text will keep shifting about and can't be firmly grasped.  

The last line of this poem by Tang Yin is a good example of what I mean.  I think I understand this poem but then there's the last line, which makes me wonder about my tenuous perch.



A Picture Too Real


Tang Yin


From ancient times

Flowers have spoken

Of immortal beauty

 

Self too partakes

Of such beauty

No matter how

Ill-fated one’s luck

 

The lilting tune

Of Rainbows and Feathers

Continues – an unending dance

 

With a long winding train  

Of golden brocade

The horse is perched

On a rocky slope




太真图


唐寅

 

古来花貌说仙娥

自是仙娥薄命多

一曲霓裳未终舞

金钿甲委马嵬坡