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August 18, 2011


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That was a very beautiful and personal post. I love how certain poems define an age and speak to one so clearly sometimes.

Have you ever looked back and remembered how much you once loved a poem, but realized that now it no longer reached you? It makes you realize just how much you have changed in the space between the loving and the forgetting.

Anyway, thanks,


An essay about poetry as touchstones - now one of my favourite articles here!

Hey there, Thanks for recommending A Different Kind of Luxury. I look forward to reading your blog! (Oh, and how did you find out about ADKL?) Be well! Andy

Oh, Laura, thank you! I have been thinking about what you said about the way things change between the loving and the forgetting. It is so true. Now, it seems hard to believe I ever loved the mandelstam poem that much to carry around with me for twenty years... but we really do change... I also think I am a very different person in Japanese (different sensiblities, different sense of humor and ways of reacting) and yet no matter how much my personality might change, I think my character is the same no matter what language. And maybe the same thing can be said for the different me in time. There is an interesting continuity as well, I guess. Did you ever happen to read David Eagleman's book Sum? In one of his stories or scenerios about the afterlife he has it that all the different versions of yourself, from childhood till you are old all have to live together in heaven for an eternity-- so the you at 5 and the you as a teenager and the you as a young student, the you at the height of your career ... etc. etc. all must live with each other and try to get along! And that this is our ultimate "just reward."
Thank you so much for your comment.
Here is a youtube video based on Eagleman's book that I like.

Hi Andy--you know I am the President of your fan club!
Hi Sam-- thanks!!!!!

Hi Peony:

I've never read Eagleman, but I might on your recommendation. I checked out the link and the description of his work makes me think of a more wordy Calvino - who I was in love with in college (when I was a young "lady"). I have already ordered the Rexroth translation of Li Qingzhao - its been years since I've read her. Thanks for breathing new life into her for me.


They ask me what's the sense of Jasper Mountains,
I laugh without reply in hearts own quiet,
Peach petals float their streams away in secret,
To skies and earths beyond the reach of mortals.

Li Po

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb: 5
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

When You Wake

Tonight, when you are finally
sleeping, I will let myself out

by the eastern gate,
wade river, and the moon,

make my way to Luoyang,
where birds have come into bloom.

There, I will set down my baskets
and gather them all up for you,

so you find, when you wake,
by your bedside in sprays,

all the peonies of Chang’an.

Your "Poem to cross a desert" essay sparked this, and I envisioned why someone would cross a desert - why, of course, to collect peonies for a beloved - and there was the tie-in to your blog's wonderful subtitle. I also marvelled how my own "rubies of Xi'an" verse touchstone reflected the "peonies of Chang'an".

Finally, I came across this site - http://www.liuli.com/en-us/peony_story.aspx# - which bears exploring, where artist Loretta Hui-shan Yang, whose emblem is a peony, creates the most marvellous Chinese glass sculptures.

". . .The wild twister pulls me out
How to return to that mid-field
It should be south, but then north
Saying east, but no, west
Drifting drifting, where should I land
... Quick death and again living
Flutter-float around Eight swamps
In succession passing Five Mountains
Flowing, turning, no constant place:
Who knows my hurt?
The wish to be mid forest grass
Autumn: by wild-fires burned
Annihilation: is there no pain?
The wish for root connection"

from Alas by Ts'ao Chih
trans. Eric Sackheim

This is such a remarkable poem. Professor Wang sent me the original Chinese and the the background/historical context , and in many ways it echoes the chaos experienced by Lady Li—this woman who lost everything and yet chose the pen name, “easily contented” 易安. Douglas, than you so much for sending this today 感謝!I made a new translation below--I am still not happy with the english in the last line but I like very much this image of enduring and self-cultivation through overcoming hardships, hoping only that one's roots remain intact in the fire:

"Passage of Sighs"
Cao Zhi, AD 229, translated by "Lady Peony"

Carried out by strong winds
Only wanting to return home
Heading southward, the wind blows me northward
Thinking it will blow eastward, it takes me westward
Drifting, drifting, where will I end up?
Surely I will perish and yet life continues
Wandering through hills and plains
Drifting and turning, no place to stay
Who knows my hurt?
I wish to be grass in the forest
Burned in autumn fires
Destroyed by fire-- does his extinguish the pain?
Wishing for this with my roots remaining



Oh! Wonderful poem, and wonderful translations! I've got to bookmark this and try my hand at it one day. :-)

Poeny: I dug into this and sprouted an attempt?

Destroyed; does this extinguish the pain
With my remaining roots, still searching?

or more Buddhalogically/ontologically translated:

Destroyed. Does this extinguish pain?
With roots still searching for a ground

Hi Douglas,

I must reject any Buddhist interprtation (you know me!!) I have heard and must sadly concur that the big problem in English language Sinology (lumping so much here on purpose) is that what is not filtered and mis-represented through a Kantian reading is stained by a Buddhist interpretation (both being in so many cases unjustified)... I just don't see any reason for such an interepretation in this case as the context was illuminated in the link above. But what do you think?

The gentelman is "blown about by the winds of destiny" (a Greek idea but it's right here in the poem) and even though his life has been blown off course he tries to overcome and like grass destroyed in fire, still hopes some roots remain. I am really interested (as you know) in the idea of roots and connection (根荄連) and think a good translation could be made here...The eminent Professor Wang suggested this:
Extermination hurts of course.
I want to stay connected to my roots.

He also sent along a song

More on facebook later ;)
I am really glad you sent me this poem... been thinking about it a lot. Very grateful!!!!!!!!

Well, the poems hooked me. I used to be a passionate reader of Chinese poetry, but gave it up when I was translating Tibetan so much. Now, as I am dying, I think to dip into it again.

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your message. I am going to put up one more poem later by Su Shi that you might like. A friend posted it to facebook the other day and it has been on my mind. I think you will like it too. So, check back later if you want!

Also, just quickly, your message was like a mimesis of the poem itself-- a man is blown here and there by heavy and cold (harsh and unkind) winds. But he seeks to locate (and keep connected) his roots. Also, too, thinking of poems to cross a desert with is like Proust's Heart's occupations. Our inner lives can give us great strength. I wrote this awhile ago and I think it's my favorite post on this blog: a vase filled with perfume (Proust and the King of Bhutan

Will be back later with the poem by Su Shi.

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