Friday, December 12, 2014

Seeing the Year Out

This watery picture was chosen 
because of the many journeys by water taken by Su Tung-P'o. 
Journeys to far outposts in Sung Dynasty China (960-1269)
were most often taken by means of river transport;
Su wrote many poems during and about water journeys.

I have read Burton Watson's wonderful slender book of the poetry of Su Tung-P'o twice over in the past couple of days. I chose tonight's poem for my Yuki Teikei Haiku Society cohort. The group will be holding their annual party tomorrow, and I am not in California now. This poem will be read to them during the evening. I should be back in time for the January meeting. Hooray!

Seeing the Year Out (1062)

Three poems on the year's end. At the end of the year we call on each other with gifts of food, and this custom is known as "Year End Presents." We drink and eat together and exchange greetings, and this is called, "Saying Goodbye to the Old Year." Then on the last night we stay up until dawn, and this is known as "Seeing the Year Out." This is the custom in Shu. Now I am assigned to a post at Mt. Ch'i, and when the end of the year came, I thought of how it would be to return to Shu. But of course it was impossible, so I wrote these three poems to send to Tzu-yu.

Want to know what the passing year is like?
A snake slithering down a hole.
Half his long scales already hidden,
How to stop him from getting away?
Grab his tail and pull, you say?
Pull all you like---it does no good.
The children try hard not to doze,
Chatter back and forth to stay awake,
But I say let dawn cocks keep still!
I fear the noise of watch drums pounding.
We've sat so long the lamp's burned out.
I get up and look at the slanting Dipper.
How could I hope next year won't come?
My mind shrinks from the failures it must bring.
I work to hold onto the night
While I can still brag I'm young.

This is the third of the three poems. Shu is the old name for Szechwan, the region where the poet and his brother were born and reared. It should be remembered that, according to Chinese custom, everyone considers himself a year older with the coming of the new year. 5-character

Su Tung-P'o
Selections from a Sung Dynasty poet
translated by Burton Watson,
Colombia University Press, 1965, pages 26 and 27.

The headnote was written by Su and was translated by Watson. The endnote is by the translator. There is a very interesting explanation of Sung poetic form in the book, Poems were usually written in lines of either 5 or 7 Chinese characters. Watson gives us this information about each poem, and his translations of the 7 character line poems do have longer lines. This is one thing that reminded me about using syllabics when writing my own poems. Haiku poets often count syllables, too! Tzu-Yu is the poet's brother. It is wonderful to me that this poem is nearly 1000 years old!!

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