Thursday, August 21, 2014

How much of what I really feel is left unsaid?

This afternoon we took the old dachshund and us two old people for a walk up the drive to get the mail. Which gave me a chance to take some pictures of the late summer weeds and grasses. This one reminds me of the delicate tones, colors and lines  (here is a link showing some of her work) in the art of illustrator Nancy Ekholm Burkert.  I fell in love with her illustrations at once when I was a young librarian and I saw the early editions of James & the Giant Peach; then I was completely blown away by her Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. If you haven't seen them and you love delicate, careful beauty, check them out!

The single fence post in the photo is a cedar one remaining from the days when this was a working farm. There are still a few along the drive to our place in the wood. As they age, they lean toward the earth and, as here, are sometimes held up only by remnants of barbed wire. These fences, and the stone piles, are witnesses to the 19th and early 20th century lives spent here.

The Pear Leaves Redden, Cicada's Song is Done
                                      Ou-Yang Hsiu
                                                               translated from the Chinese by J. P. Seaton

The pear leaves redden, the cicada's song is done.
Wind high up in the River of Heaven,
flute sounds: cold and cutting.
A chill on the mat, the water-clock dripping.
Who taught the swallows to make so light of parting?

At the edge of the grass, the insects moan,
as autumn's frosts congeal.
Stale wine awakening,
I can't remember when you left.
How much of what I really feel is left unsaid?
Night after night moon dawns
upon my pearl-embroidered screen.

from The Gift of Tongues; twenty-five years of poetry from Copper Canyon Press, edited by Sam Hamill,1996, page 237.

I am very fond of these ancient Chinese poems in translation. Of course I know that that the people who had the leisure to write them were not knee-deep in the rice paddies. Their food and comfort was provided by the hard work of others. Their pearl-embroidered screens were made for them by skilled artisans, who probably didn't have the leisure to write poems, either. My own pensioned life is also quite comfortable, although I don't have to learn court etiquette, or fuss about the emperor's planned visit. Or write poems to order. Autumn is coming, and I think this poem captures that feeling well. Twelve lines is a good length for a poem: long enough to give details, but not become too whiny or boring.

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