Focus: Poetry and Song
Poetry is often represented to us as a rather inaccessible form of art, whether it be because of our lack of knowledge of the references made in classical poetry, or because the wit and honesty of a certain age, looks, in retrospect, trite and sentimental in the contemporary world, or even due to the apparent resistance to interpretation displayed by Modernist poetry. However, to view poetry, a form that by all accounts, predates literacy, as something erudite and far-removed is to ignore the form of poetry that makes up the fabric of our daily lives, song. So, this month, eRenlai has taken a closer look at the relationship between song and poetry.
Where is Poetry to be found in our life? Like oxygen, Poetry is to be found everywhere – and nowhere in particular. Like oxygen also, Poetry is rarely found pure and unmixed – it reaches us in composition with other gases, and this is what makes us able to breathe and flourish. Still, when oxygen becomes too rarefied we need a bottle of it, and inhale it at its purest. Poems – sometimes only one verse, a couple of lines - are like supply bottles that make us able to go on when we feel asphyxiated. But Poetry comes under many garbs, and likes to mix with the profane and the ordinary.
Living without Poetry makes one wither and dry out. Life has no taste, resonance or nuance anymore, thoughts and projects pile up in the shelves of the mind like strings of empty shells. But Poetry is always at hand. For sure, there are environments that naturally bathe our life in Poetry – when we live near forests, lakes or mountains, when people around us walk at a leisurely pace, when music resonates at our gate. However, breathing Poetry throughout our life is first and foremost a question of inner attention: I am the one who decides to stop my work for a while and to listen to some beloved piece of music or take time to discover an author, some of whose verses I had heard one day. I may choose to go to the park and marvel at the trees and their birds rather than staying at my computer. I can rediscover the smile of the people living near me, and offer them in gratitude the smile I so often forget to illuminate my face with.
It's not so easy, for sure. I am presently living in an apartment located on the 20th floor, and my office is in a tower, on the 26th floor. No matter what window I look out of, I just see roads and groups of towers… At the start, I did suffer a lot from it: the landscape and rhythm of life made me feel dry. Poetry flew away from me, leaving my imagination, my will, my memory, dried out and empty. Step by step, I had to learn again, to find Poetry in silence, prayer, the reading of a book – a new one or an old companion -, the rediscovery of music. I also found Poetry in dreaming over these endless ranges of towers, especially when night is falling. And I gave myself time to create objects of Poetry – drawings and paintings, short texts, emails that were not for “business” but which I took pleasure to carve as if they were little artworks. Also, I decided to walk more. Whatever the environment, there is something in walking that is akin to Poetry. Many poems after all were composed, in ancient times, to accompany the work in the fields, the wandering on the roads, the dance during the ritual…
In new environments, Poetry surges in new forms. For its oxygen to fill and replenish our life Poetry requires from us skills and virtues that are timeless: a sense of playfulness and gratuitousness, a willingness to pause and to listen, and a desire to respond in chants, words and works to the gift we receive when we walk on the road and we breathe Poetry.
Father Versus Son, A Revision of the Old Classics
The Taiwanese use the phrase “sweet burden” (tian mi de fu he 甜蜜的負荷) to describe the ambivalent relationship between parent and child. The phrase derived from poet Wu Sheng’s(吳晟) poem “Burden” (fu he負荷). The immense popularity of the poem can be partially attributed to its inclusion as Chinese literature textbook material, even more so perhaps becauseof its colloquial and vivid description of the bittersweet parenting experience that resonates with so many people. “Burden” was written in 1977, that was when Wu Sheng first tried hishand at parenting. Nobody expected that 30 years later, he would join forces with his second son Wu Zu-lin (吳志寧) to give “Burden” as well as his other poems a new life.
How do we measure the distance between poetry and ourselves?
It’s not thousands of miles away at the bottom of the Ocean, it’s also not in a star a few light years away. By simply strolling into a KTV we can find vestiges of poetry. By simply humming along to a song, we can fill our heart with poetic feeling, and slowly wash away the dust of time.
Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart
Everyone, whether to a greater extent or a lesser, has a few melodies or a few lines of poetry which come to mind easily, without a deliberate effort to chase them out; they slip out at just the right moment, nurturing us.
A poem or a song, in context, can become a lover, or a confidante, you understand them, they understand you, and nothing can come between you.
Six lovers of poetry, six songs each with its own story, each revealing a different aspect of life. Then, may we think, is poetry so much farther removed from our laughter or our tears than song?
If one were to imagine someone's life as the changing seasons, the aboriginal Tsou tribe musician, Gao Yisheng, could be said to have missed out on the plentitude of summer's harvest and skipped straight into the bleakness of autumn and winter.
Former teacher at the College de France, translator, essayist and poet, Michael Edwards is a specialist in Shakespeare's plays; he's also very keen on classic and modern theater (Molière, Claudel, etc..), poetry and spirituality.
He's written many books about such topics. This interview was inspired by an article published in the French periodical Etvdes (may 2011) and insists on the human and spiritual aspect of the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare. This interview shares with us the capacity of wonder in the comedies of Shakespeare as well as the great sense of human passion displayed in his tragedies: the songs let the spectator enter into another world within the present tense, a world made of marvels, irony and pains. In the world of Shakespeare, there is no time for idleness; the language of songs tells what can't be grasped within the imperishable movement of voices and dialogues.
This second video insists on the genuine "mirth" displayed in the comedies of Shakespeare. The celebration of carpe diem by the lovers expresses a trust in what love means for both man and woman. It opens people to the plenitude of the "now and here" while suggesting with a tender irony a transcendantal dimension of human life.
This third video speaks of the notion of "atonement" : it signifies a deep and secret correspondance between things, even if remote at first sight. It illustrates the passion for "oneness" at work in the heart of the poet. It points also to the depth of reconciliation that music is able to demonstrate, going beyond contradictions of life and enmity.
Alternate for readers in China
A rhymer like myself finds beauty and harmony in the sounds and rhythms of words which he or she crafts into written melodies ready for recitation and enjoyment. There is a message hidden in the rhyme, but it was born giving life and purpose to the composition and versification.
Here are some examples. First some rhymes of my own.
The Way To Bounce
The adage is that
When falling, a cat
Will land on its feet.
No way that I can.
I’m only a man.
I’d land on my seat.
It’s the way that you bounce
Not the landing that counts.
If still you can stand
Right after you fall,
Not hurting at all,
Then the landing was grand.
I look at sky
And wonder why
It doesn’t fall.
I know a lot,
But God I’m not.
My mind is small.
I know a bit
How some things fit.
I don’t know all.
I wish I knew
What makes sky blue.
I don’t know yet.
So much to know
Where does time go?
I mustn’t fret.
It’s not God’s plan
That people can
Become so wise
That they can find
What’s on His mind
Or in his eyes.
There’ll be no quiz
About what is
Or how or when.
But when I rest
From all my quest,
I’ll know all then.
Do what I ought.
It’s not my thought
That makes me true.
Just do my best,
I’ll pass the test
When life is through.
Every Second Needs A First
No fruit at the top
Is found on a crop
With nothing below.
Before that, indeed,
There must be good seed
To make it all grow.
The way to be bolder
Is stand on the shoulder
Of someone who’s already bold.
You’ll only be taller,
If once you were smaller.
For only the golden are gold.
No letter, no mail.
There’s only a sale
If something is sold.
No moisture, no hail.
There’s only a tale
If a story is told.
Two plus two
Is quite a few.
Four plus four
Is twice as more.
Six plus six,
You’re in a fix,
For two hands then
Make only ten.
The proper sum
From toes must come.
The range of numbers has no end,
What each one means you cannot bend.
And then to add to all your cares,
There’s plus and minus, roots and squares.
How much nicer would it be
If there were only one, two, three.
Those are my rhymes. Here are Benoit’s poems.
Ghosts and angels
I will not wait on the threshold.
I will wander into wet fields and ghost mountains
Until I lose my way.
I will then call for help,
Hoping for the coming of green and grey angels
Escorted by wild beasts which they tame
If no other mission requires them.
We will all stay in the incandescent shadow
That covers and burns these bounties,
Watching over the luxuriant desert
Where one’s path is found once it’s lost.
The soul - as misty
As the winter hills -
Lies down, and the breeze
Soon bares her chest.
Once clouds are gone
Where will be hiding
The soul, the soul just as misty
As are the mornings on the hills?
Be the curve of my sight and the touch of my hand,
You, crest of the Southern mountains
That floats from one ocean to the next
With the easy melancholy only mastered
By things that don’t need to stand firm,
The things in which dwells the spirit
Who knows how to move volumes and lines
Till they picture music to the eyes and the breath
- The breath that moves along the crest
of the Southern mountains.
Not moving anymore
Trees and peaks go briskly on the road
As I stand still. The tunes they hum,
I perceive them only vaguely, such is the speed.
The birds are at pain to follow, and finally decide
To gather around the salty dream I have become.
Fruits fallen on the way nourish me, and fonts
Born in my throat flow down towards the roots
Of the ground that transfixes me.
A night as blue as a bird’s tail
Speaks low to the ear of the leaves,
Telling of immensurable spaces that are buried
- So says the night - into the cells,
the sand and the foam.
There is a well that collects the white secrets
The night is breathing away,
A well as deep as the palm and the pupil.
Purple is the sound of the sea
When morning comes
– the sea that at dawn returns to the caves
The secrets sung low to the leaves.
The biggest difference between my verse and Benoit’s poems is that strip the rhyme and meter from mine and there is practically nothing left, whereas his thoughtful inspiration without any rhyme achieves its high level of meaning and emotion.
As rhymer, I hope the readers will get a kick out of my plays with sounds and words. As poet Benoit hopes that others will encounter the realty and feel the throbbing pulse throbbing beneath the surface trappings that camouflage what lies below.
Actually, I am more than just a rhymer. I also compose poems that I hope are more than grand sounding songs, as the following suggests:
Some are quite funny;
Some of them sad;
Some full of wonder;
Some of them glad.
Some are pretentious
And meant to impress,
In others I try
To plainly express
The feelings that I
Found deep in my heart.
And sometimes depart
From meter and rhyme
To echo and show
The ebb and the flow
Of my mood at the time.
Wang Xiong was born in July, 1985 in Taipei, Taiwan, where he still lives with his two cats. He graduated from the Department of Chinese Literature and dropped out of the Master's Program of the Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, he is currently working in journalism. He has previously been awarded National Taiwan University Prize for Modern Verse.This poem won the Modern Poetry Judge's Award of the 34th United Daily News Literature Prize.
Bust of Becquer. Photo by Ana Rey
¿Qué es poesía? -dices mientras clavas
en mi pupila tu pupila azul.
¿Qué es poesía? ¿Y tú me lo preguntas?
Poesía... eres tú.
These four simple lines are considered by many people to be some of the most famous and beautiful in the history of Spanish literature. Written by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, a Romantic poet of 19th century Spain, they roughly translate as:
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