October 5, 2011

Max’s Musings

By Max Molleston

We Americans are hearing and reading more and more about China, and I don’t think it will go away soon. In our columns here, we seldom deal in the political aspects, although we are aware from college training and lifelong occupation concerns with the huge Communist led peoples. For thousands of years prior to the takeover from the Nationalists in 1949, learned the Chinese were composing poetry, probably prior to similar creative efforts where
cultures developing writing and the arts sprung to life adjacent to what is now the Mediterranean Sea. Histories want Egypt and Mesopotamia early, too. July of 2009, a column working through friendship saw this 17th century Chinese poem.

Sitting at Night

A quiet valley with no man’s footprints,
An empty garden lit by the moon.
Suddenly my dog barks and I know
A friend with a bottle is knocking at the gate.

I have rolled out Chinese poetry that was off shore; product from natives of Taiwan or writers who chose self-exile from the oppression on the mainland. Today, I am working for you with poet Kenneth Rexroth, who has translated Chinese poetry to English, which made it handy for English speaking (and reading) western civilization. Rexroth, a fluent reader in Chinese since his adolescence, pulled forward Chinese poet Tu Fu (Too Foo) from the T’ang Dynasty. A bottle is mentioned within.

Snow Storm

Tumult, weeping, many new ghosts,
Heartbroken, aging, alone, I sing
To myself. Ragged mist settles
In the spreading dusk. Snow scurries
In the coiling wind. The wineglass
Is spilled. The bottle is empty,
The fire has gone out in the stove.
Everywhere men speak in whispers.
I brood on the uselessness of letters.

It is clear here the “bottle is empty.” I can’t tell about “the uselessness of letters.” Rexroth also spent lots of time and study revealing poetry of the Sung Dynasty. He claims little or nothing has been done to convert the work to English. In his introduction for the book I am using this month, One Hundred Poems From The Chinese, he writes. “I make no claim for the book as a piece of Oriental Scholarship. Just some poems.” Efforts in the Sung Dynasty are seen to give us longer poems (not necessarily more depth). Su Tung P’O is here translated by Kenneth Rexroth. You don’t get its
31 lines here, but a few. Again, some wine is involved in a half-dozen lines or so in The Weaker Wine

The Weaker Wine

The weaker the wine,
The easier it is to drink two cups,
The thinner the robe,
The easier it is to wear it double,
Ugliness and beauty are opposites,
But when you are drunk, one is as good as the other,
Ugly wives and quarrelsome concubines,
The older they grow, the more they are alike.
Live unknown if you would realize your end,
Follow the advice of your common sense.

So it goes, as the poet Su Tung P’O rambles on with what we term a “laundry list” to continue the 31 lines. I had no intention to insult you loyal readers with all this wine, but it seems lots was consumed through time for good and ill.

That is surely enough on some of the classic Chinese poetry translated by Kenneth Rexroth. We owe him high tribute for bringing dozens of Chinese poems, some equisite, to English speaking readers.

November is our next opportunity to get together. The test will be to be fresh and new, and I think that can happen.