A wacky tempest hit Colorado in the last 24 hours and snow fell in lucky places north of me and in the high country. We did get some of that stuff and some of that other stuff known as “rain.” Not much. Not enough to settle the dust but still. Maybe it’s just meteorological practicing to see if it’s even possible to fall here in the San Luis Valley, and maybe any little effort deserves applause. I covered the baby beans in the garden and thought good thoughts for the peony buds in front.
Sometimes that’s all you can do.
The four beans (so far) outside were easy to name, but the four inside beans? Some bean somewhere will be Li Ho — probably an outside bean since, as a poet, he was an outsider. And Li Bai will return, I’m sure. And why these two?
Each of them wrote a poem that shed light on my life at the time — or maybe life in a greater sense than just this one, solitary, small life. As a writer I think often of my high school AP English teacher and her insistence on Aristotle’s insistence that good drama (tragedy) had “universality.” Mrs. Zinn harped incessantly (to the ears of a 17 year old) on this. Now I think the importance of that idea is (hopefully) impossible to fully understand when you’re 17 years old, unexposed and inexperienced. Sure, intellectually I understood “hubris” and some of the other Greek words (and the concepts behind them), but not like I understand now (ha ha).
This morning, thumbing through my first ever book of Chinese poetry, a book I received as a Christmas present from my best friend in 1979, two years before I went to China or even applied for a job, I see that it’s OK for these beans to have the same names as their progenitors. Nurturing this fifth generation of Scarlet Emperor Beans, I see a new aspect to the idea of “universality.” Here are the two important poems, the first by Li Bai:
Li Bai’s poem is accessible and Yeats wrote a similar poem in “The Song of the Happy Shepherd” but Li Ho’s poem, “Don’t Go Out of that Door” is similar in its message, but more desperate, maybe darker, definitely more passionate.
Li Ho’s poem inspired Pink Floyd’s (Roger Waters’) The Wall. Waters and I read the poem completely differently. The poem is sufficiently cryptic, and we can only read translations, so the whole thing might be a long, long, long way from what Li Ho had it mind. Still, translation doesn’t kill a good poem. As Goethe said in a beautiful small poem that I can’t find right now, a translation is like a flower in a vase. It’s still the same flower as it was in the field. In any case, it seems to me that Waters’ saw the wall as a barrier, cage, jail. I see it as yeah, maybe all that, but it’s also the ONLY thing there is on which to carve questions.
I’m not a fan of Pink Floyd, and I didn’t know about this connection until not long ago I googled Li Ho’s poem (too lazy to go get the book…) and got the above website. I felt kind of resentful. I mean, after all, that poem belonged to ME. 🙂 Any-hoo… I’d probably better go walk a dog or something while the weather is good (meaning cold).
I went back and found the post I wrote about the first generation of these amazing beans. That was four years ago. Here it is. Hongli, the Scarlet Emperor Bean. The first beans were just an experiment. I had no idea what these plants were like or what they would do, how big they would grow, or what they would be. I just had a packet of seeds. Hongli WAS a Chinese emperor, so that was easy, but a second bean came up? I named him Song Jiang, for the hero in Shui Hu Chuan (The Water Margin).