Time for Poetry: This week, we invite you to write a post — in verse or in prose — inspired by poetry.
Poetry has always been a huge part of my life. I don’t just love it; I think I need it. Three poems separated by centuries, from different cultures, say the same thing — a message for me as a writer (and teacher) who sometimes wonders, “What’s the point?”
The first, “Visiting Han-Tan; the Dancers at the Southern Pavilion is by Li Bai, poet of Tang Dynasty China. Li Bai’s poetry is well known by Chinese even though Li Bai lived thousands of years ago. There is in Chinese culture a beautiful thing; poetry is a thread linking generation to generation. Whole Chinese holidays are based on old poems and the adventures of ancient poets. Poets in Chinese culture were not dallying dilettantes separate from ordinary life; many were leaders, warriors and heroes, in fact, the ability to write good poetry was considered a necessary attribute of a leader — Chairman Mao was even a decent poet.
“Visiting Han-tan: The Dancers at the Southern Pavilion”
They sang to me and drummed, the boys of Yen and Chao,
Lovely girls plucked the sounding string.
Their painted cheeks shone like dazzling suns;
The dancer’s sleeves shook out like blossoming boughs.
Bringing her wine I approached a handsome girl
And made her sing me songs of Han-tan.
Then lutes were played, and coiling away and away
The tune fell earthward, dropping from the grey clouds.
Where is the Prince of Chao, what has he left
But an old castle-moat where tadpoles breed?
Those thousand knights that sat at his board,
Is there one among them whose name is still known?
Let us make merry, get something in our own day
To set against the pity of ages still unborn.
Thousands of years later, in a world about as far away as anyone could get, William Butler Yeats wrote “The Song of the Happy Shepherd” — in many respects, the same poem as “Visiting Han-Tan.” Here is part of it:
The woods of Arcady are dead,
And over is their antique joy;
Of old the world on dreaming fed;
Grey Truth is now her painted toy;
Yet still she turns her restless head:
But O, sick children of the world,
Of all the many changing things
In dreary dancing past us whirled,
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings,
Words alone are certain good.
Where are now the warring kings,
Word be-mockers? – By the Rood,
Where are now the watring kings?
An idle word is now their glory,
By the stammering schoolboy said,
Reading some entangled story:
The kings of the old time are dead;
The wandering earth herself may be
Only a sudden flaming word,
In clanging space a moment heard,
Troubling the endless reverie….
So there it is — along with Whitman’s “O Me! O Life” — voices through time, all saying nothing matters more than words. That the verses of these men have trickled through time’s filter it into my life, my mind, and now this blog, proves it.
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.