“Written in a Pavilion Lost in the Mists”spring flowers, fall’sfull moon:the stuff of poems.cloudless sun. clearnights. here: mountainspirits, loosed.no reason I raisedthe pearl-sewn blinds.won’t lower them.my couch is moved for good now.I’ll turn toward these hillsand sleep.(Yu Xuanji trans. by Geoffrey Waters)
What I have noticed is that aspiring poets can reproduce the simple description in this form– reminiscent of e.e. cummings–but when it comes to the real point of the poem, where the observing eye moves inward, when the poetic sensibility must construct meaning from the passive moment of watching flowers and moon and mountain–this is where the trouble begins. Most pastiches of this sort of transparent poetry miss the point right at the line “I’ll turn toward these hills/and sleep.” What? Isn’t the romantic (and it is the easiest thing in the world to think of Chinese and Japanese “nature” poets as “romantics”–maybe not as loquacious as Wordsworth, but with the identical set of feelings) supposed to regard the hills? Isn’t it rather anti-climactic to fall asleep? And that’s the way these deceptive poems often work: they take us to the edge of a simple truth and turn it against us–this is the art of disappointment, or of beauty as emptiness rather than fulfillment.
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