Jeff Schwaner is one of the poets I’ve come across, or perhaps he came across me, who knows how these things happen out on the intarwebs. Anyway, I’ve been enjoying his visit from Mei Yao-ch’en, an 11th century Chinese poet, particularly the titles, which are great slice of life descriptive vignettes. A recent one has them going to Lowe’s to pick out a Christmas tree. I love the preposterous ordinariness of it.
Not that some of these things we do are any less absurd for us than an 11th century Chinese poet, if we really stopped and thought about it. And a great reminder that things we consider as everyday and take for granted could seem like another planet to someone else from a different time or place. One of the great things about traveling – to see different things, and to see things differently. Also a reminder that you don’t actually have to go anywhere to travel. Having a visitor can bring things to you. And you can always travel in your mind or in someone else’s words.
Jeff had read Mei Yao-ch’en’s poetry in translation, one of the translators he mentioned was Kenneth Rexroth, another poet I’d not heard of, or, if heard of, had not read, until recently. On my recent trip to Cuba, one of my fellow travelers gave me a copy of this poem:
THE HANGED MAN
Storm lifts from Wales
And blows dark over England,
And over my head
As I stand above the Teme,
And look out across Ludlow and the dark castle,
And the ringing church tower.
Clear bells on the storm,
And grey rain on the river,
And me where I will not come again,
And pain I doubt that formal poet ever knew
Who wrote “This is me”
Anent the page of one too cowardly to love.
Ache and hunger fill the lives
Of those who dare not give or take.
Misery is all the lot of the unlovable ones,
And of rejected lovers,
But not one of these knows the empty horror
Of the slow conquering, long fought off,
Realization that love assumed and trusted
Through years of mutual life
Had never been there at all.
The bells of St Lawrence
Sprinkle their music over the town.
Silver drops, gathered in Bermuda,
Shimmer and are lost in the brown English water.
It is all just like the poet said.