Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Morning with Po-Chu-i

For any number of years, the book The White Pony: An Anthology of Chinese Literature has sat leisurely at my bedside for me to dip into at fancy and whim.  What this approach to an anthology loses in continuity is made up for with the element of surprise: I pick up the volume and am on occasion taken back by the power and wisdom of much of the work found there.   Edited by Robert Payne and originally published in 1947, it's pocket book size somewhat makes up for its old school approach (I can't tell you how many doctor and dental appointments its accompanied me to, only to find its way back to the pile beside my bed).  Here's a little beauty I ran across a few nights ago:

The Harp
   I lay my harp on the curved table,
   Sitting there idly, filled with emotions.
   Why should I trouble to play?
   A breeze will come and sweep the strings.
                  Po Chu-i
                  translated by Chang Ti

This translation's virtues are many, not the least of which is the ambiguity of the 2nd line.   The ennui here should certainly appeal to most poets and just as assuredly describes the universal human condition.


This week's featured poem comes from Lilliput Review, #164, originally published in July 2008.  By the outstanding UK poet David Lindley, whose work has been featured many times over the years, this little is a reminder about something we who are not bodhisattvas are constantly doomed to repeat.

in imitation of a poem by Ishikawa Jozan

   Cherry blossom scattered
   on the lawn at evening.
   The spring and I
   both feel old.
   I can't say
   you betrayed me.
   When the blossom
   was on the tree
   it was I who
   forgot to look.
David Lindley

cherry blossoms scatter
snap! the buck
twists off his horns
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Charles Gramlich said...

I've actually seen a copy of this somewhere. maybe on a colleague's book shelf

Lyle Daggett said...

The first translations of Chinese poems I read (sometime in 1970 or 1971) were a few by Rexroth in the anthology Naked Poetry. Apaart from that, The White Pony was the first book of Chinese poem translations I found and read. Would have been 1972 or 1973, sometime around then.

I've never sat and read the collection cover to cover, rather have sampled from it much over the years. I recall in particular, when I first had the book, being especially drawn to the poems of Li Po.

I've also come to recognize Payne's "old school" approach, as you aptly put it, can see some of the limitations of the book, though it does also have the virtue that few if any of the poems in the anthology feel slight or trivial or superfluous. Each one hold weight and substance.

When I consider the dozens of anthologies of all sorts that have been published in recent years, I can't help thinking the editors of most of them could learn something useful by spending time with a collection such as The White Pony.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Worth dipping into if you see it again, Charles.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Lyle, we seem to have had parallel experiences with "White Pony." Often I read a poem and it just doesn't quite seem to get there and it feels like the translation. Still, I've taken a lot of useful things away from readings there.

I've just got hold of a copy of David Hinton's Classical Chinese Poetry, which a number of folks have recommended to me and so I got for my birthday. I'm looking forward to it.

Theresa Williams said...

That poem about the harp is really beautiful.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Very glad you like it, Theresa.