“Art is like a kite. You have to pull the string hard in order to stretch it to its limit, but you don’t want to pull it so hard that you break the thread, because the thread connects you to the land and its peoples.” ~ Wu Guanzhong
Once again, I have my tumblr dash to thank for discovering another artist. Seeing one print by Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010) set me on an internet search for more of his work, which I found in abundance. Rather than including some of the images in a post, I decided to let the art be the post, hence, the gallery below.
Wu Guanzhong is considered by many to be one of the greatest Chinese contemporary painters of all time. For more details on the artist’s life and works, click here, here, or here.
“Everyone is asleep There is nothing to come between The moon and me.” ~ Enomoto Seifu-jo (trans. by Kenneth Rexroth)
Saturday’s Super Moon is a result of this month’s full moon coinciding with the moon’s perigee, or its closest approach to Earth, making it the year’s biggest moon. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the moon will swing in 221,802 miles (356,955 kilometers) from our planet, offering skywatchers a spectacular view of an extra-big, extra-bright moon . . . not only does the moon’s perigee coincide with full moon this month, but this perigee will be the nearest to Earth of any this year, as the distance of the moon’s close approach varies by about 3 percent, according to meteorologist Joe Rao, SPACE.com‘s skywatching columnist. This happens because the moon’s orbit is not perfectly circular.
This month’s full moon is due to be about 16 percent brighter than average. In contrast, later this year on Nov. 28, the full moon will coincide with apogee, the moon’s farthest approach, offering a particularly small and dim full moon.
Of the Surface of Things
In my room, the world is beyond my understanding;
But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four
hills and a cloud.
From my balcony, I survey the yellow air,
Reading where I have written,
“The spring is like a belle undressing.”
The gold tree is blue,
The singer has pulled his cloak over his head.
The moon is in the folds of the cloak.
Early Autumn (detail) by Qian Xuan (13th C., ink and colors on paper)
“Thus moved, he will spread his paper and poise his brush To express what he can in writing.” ~ Lu chi (261-303),
from The Motive for Poetry
I have spent too many days dwelling on life—my life, my role in this life, my thoughts about living life with someone you love but with whom you disagree at times (it’s called marriage). It’s all so complicated, and then, not really. As a result of my meditations, I wrote two poems, one of which I did not post. More on my poem(s) in a moment.
Today, I did not really want to write about mysef. I need a break from myself. Do you ever feel like that, like you would like to send that part of yourself that is in pain or is being a pain to another room, lock the door, and say don’t come out until it’s over? Of course, not possible in the physical realm of things, but I do know of individuals who can compartmentalize themselves to such an extent that they can move between the different parts of themselves, their different faces, if you will. They move seamlessly between their personae so that no one ever really gets to know them, the real them because there is no real them.
I’m not talking about multiple personality disorder here. I mean something much more ethereal, less tangible. Having dealt extensively with an individual who falls into this category, I can tell you that it is incredibly taxing. Me? I’m pretty much an open book about most things: I’ll tell you how I feel whether you want it or not. And as we all know, this is not necessarily a good thing. And self-censorship is something at which I have never been very capable. If part of me is in pain emotionally, then all of me is experiencing that pain; hence, my wish that it were not so.
Anyway, today’s post really isn’t about me. It’s about writing. Poems. Poets. Words.
“Perpetual thought itself gropes in time and space;
Then, the spirit at full gallop reaches the eight limits of the cosmos,
And the mind, self-buoyant, will ever soar to new insurmountable heights.”
~ Lu Chi, from Meditation Before Writing
In reading my comments and blogrolls today, I came upon the following poem by Chinese poet Po Chü-i (Tang Dynasty) posted by healnow of The Madder Hatter. I love Chinese poetry: Often it creates images with an enviable sparsity of words. Ancient Chinese poets were often involved in politics in some manner, and because of this, the poets would use metaphors to criticize the rulers of the time.
As with Japanese poetry, ancient Chinese poetry predominantly employs images in nature. I have tried Japanese Haiku as an exercise to use an economy of words. It is incredibly hard to write a poem that contains only 17 syllables (three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively). Of all of the Haiku that I have written, there is perhaps only one that I like, that I feels comes closest to the spirit of the form.
But as usual, I digress. “Night on the West River” employs only 64 words to create the same atmosphere that I was trying to evoke with “October Rain.” Granted, I really wasn’t thinking as much about form as I was more concerned with the emotion. But Po Chü-i’s lines, “Cold comfort,” “Water flowing grayly,” say what I was feeling but with much more perspective.
I usually don’t post any of my poems until I have worked and reworked them. I strayed from my own advice and posted purely out of emotion. I’m not sorry that I did. Don’t misunderstand. It was a pressing need, and I embraced that need with the post. Rather, what I am saying, is that it was an unfinished poem, and in comparison to “Night on the West River,” the deficiencies of my own “October Rain” are made all the more apparent.
It’s a good writing lesson, and it’s good to still be able to learn lessons. And of course, the masters are those from whom we can learn the best lessons.
Night on the West River
To light my way upon the stair,
In the wine I drink alone.
The hurried flight of birds,
Water flowing grayly
In the dusk.
A rising storm,
Boats tugging at their mooring ropes.
Or sails full-spread
To take advantage of the wind.
A moving point of fire
In the dark,
The distant lantern
Of a passing boat.
(Translated by Henry Hart)
This poem and many others can be found on a website called Humanist Texts, which includes writings by Aeschylus, Cervantes, Khayyam, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and many others. According to the home page, the purpose of the website is to show “how people around the world gradually develop an understanding of what it is to be human. Multicultural extracts portray the wit, wisdom, and poetry of individuals as they reflect on ethics, philosophy, knowledge, and human relationships.” It’s a great site, and many thanks to The Madder Hatter for turning me on to it.
The following poem by Lu chi has more of a modern sensibility, but very often, translating from Chinese or Japanese—which is an arduous task—can be made harder as no precise English word exists for words in those vocabularies.
Unfortunately for Lu chi, his creative sensibilities were compelled into military service as he was born into a wealthy military family. Much of Lu chi’s work was dedicated to writing about the craft of writing.
The Joy of Writing
Writing is in itself a joy,
Yet saints and sages have long since held it in awe.
For it is being, created by tasking the great void;
And it is sound rung out of profound silence.
In a sheet of paper is contained the infinite,
And, evolved from an inch-sized heart, an endless panorama.
The words, as they expand, become all-evocative,
The thought, still further pursued, will run the deeper,
Till flowers in full blossom exhale all-pervading fragrance,
And tender boughs, their saps running, grow to a whole jungle of splendor.
Bright winds spread luminous wings, quick breezes soar from the earth,
And, nimbus-like amidst all these, rises the glory of the literary world.
“All objects visible under the sun or moon will the poet in experiment strike aglow,
All that can give out a sound he will ring to test their resonance.”
~ Lu Chi from The Working Process
I love the line, “The words, as they expand, become all-evocative.” Exactement! That is what I seek when I write: to allow my words to come from a void and to expand until they fill the space for which they were intended. Lofty goal? Not really. Reduced to its simplest form, it merely means sifting through all of the possible words and finding the exact right word to convey the thought.
I’ll leave you now with just one more, a selection from a poem by Medieval Japanese poet Hitomaro. I love the allusions to fall.
On the Death of his Wife (I)
I would gladly follow
the wandering spirit of my love
through precipitous ways
hidden by autumn’s red leaves,
but cannot tread those unknown mountain trails
That lie beyond my ken.
In autumn’s fall of scarlet forest leaves
I see the message coming for me
and think of one day of love
that never more shall be.
To continue my theme of rain (may be a bit quiet) . . .
Close Up of Unidentified Tree Frog on Pool Filter by C. Fickel
“How strange that Nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!” ~ Emily Dickinson
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” ~ John Burroughs
So I was floating around in the pool this afternoon while Corey was vacuuming, and we have sad news: Apparently the tree frog that has been living somewhere in our backyard deposited her eggs in the pool unbeknownst to us. We didn’t find out until all of the tadpoles surfaced when Corey added the chemicals to clean the pool.
One of the great things about having the tree frogs in our backyard is that I am certain that their singing probably drives our nosey neighbor nuts. She (the neighbor) is not a delightful individual, and I think that I can safely say that she finds our backyard habitats irksome. Oh well.
In case you are wondering why I have such an antipathy for this neighbor, let me give you a few examples of her less-than-neighborly actions: She once called the city on us because we had a compost pile. Her complaint? It was a rat harborage. The guy from the city who came to inspect our backyard was very nice and told me that he saw nothing wrong with our yard. When I asked who had complained, he said that he couldn’t really tell me, but if I watched where he went when he left our house, it would be pretty obvious who had called.
Yep. It was the nosey neighbor.
Another time, after a hurricane had demolished many trees and shrubs in the neighborhood and left most of the city without power for days, we had put the dead branches out by the curb as the city instructed. The city also said that there was no guarantee as to when they would be able to collect everything as there was so much destruction throughout the city.
Well, this particular neighbor didn’t like the fact that our branches were out for several weeks, even though we were following the city’s instructions, so she and her adult daughter took it upon themselves to place the branches in the back of Corey’s truck. We caught them in the act and asked them what they were doing.
Nothing. Like young children being caught stealing. Not us. Nothing. I don’t know.
Have to love the neighbors who spread that warm sense of community. Even kindly Mr. Rogers would not have liked these women.
But I digress . . .
“Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.” ~ Walt Whitman
So the tree frog tadpoles perished, which is a shame. But the pool was very relaxing today, and I enjoyed my diversion, even though both Tillie and Shakes were trying mightily to engage me in a game of water tennis. Because I would not throw the ball for them, they took turns jumping into the pool after dropping the ball into the water. I’m sure that it was a conspiracy led by the fat one. It’s hard to ignore a Labrador who swims around you and drops a tennis ball onto your float, but I did my best.
In spite of the dogs’ best efforts to distract me, I enjoyed the sounds of lapping water, occasional birds overhead, and the sweet, sweet smell of the last gardenia blooms on the bush.
Other than that, I have yet to tackle the baskets of clean clothes that are still blocking my way to my closet. The shoes are still in a pile by my feet, and the stack of papers perched precariously on my printer has not been touched.
One thing at a time. And having just concluded a telephone conversation with my ex, I don’t really feel up to tackling much of anything. He exhausts me. There is no other way to put it. Even when he is seemingly in a good mood, our conversations always seem vexing, and I finish them feeling as if I need a strong drink or a hot bath or both. So I’ll just eat a few cookies instead and try to put his testiness out of my mind.
But why oh why does he tell me things and then insist that he never said them? I mean, it’s not as if he’s on medication that affects his cognitive abilities. I have a theory that he is still trying to get me to crack under pressure.
Bothersome neighbors. Trying ex-spouses. Irksome laundry. My personal axis of evil. And technically, that should be ax-es, plural, but hey, why be picky about a phrase adopted by a president who spoke of OB/GYNs practicing love on their patients.
So with that in mind, I thought that I would leave you with this classic SNL skit: Will Ferrell as President Bush on the Growing Axis of Evil . . .
1. Walking along the shoreline at dusk, and letting my toes sink into the sand as the water recedes, the white foam leaving tiny rivulets, an uneven line that disappears as soon as another wave hits the shore and pulls back again. This is the best part of the day: in the gloaming, that time between dusk and sundown, when all magical things are possible, and everything seems to be just slightly more tinged with the setting sun’s pink hue—red, pink, gold, and alabaster. This is the time of faeries and dreams.
2. The flower garden in early morning when everything is still covered with dew, still glistening with dawn’s light shower. The only sounds are bird song and crickets, the frogs in the pond and cicadas beginning their low hum.
3. The almost crimson cardinal and his mate as they dart from the top of the fence to the nandina bush on the side of the house, its berries muted red in contrast to his unmistakably deep blush and crested head. He is always careful to dive first; she follows. Mated for life, they dance this dance from bush to fence to tree to water—he first, to clear the way, the lady to follow.
4. The softness of a lamb’s ear plant, its silvery foliage, smooth as velvet. Small purple flowers call to hummingbirds and bees as this mat of fuzzy foliage spreads through rocks, lines borders, and encircles trees. The lamb’s ear, so sweetly soft, invites touch, hence its whimsical name.
5. Wisteria is perhaps the most beautiful of vines with its arches of violet-blue flowers that cascade like multiple waterfalls, one atop another atop another, creating the perfect stage for butterflies to perform their air dances in search of honey-sweet nectar. Long associated with the beauty of the Orient, wisteria bears exotic names: Shiro Noda, a Japanese Wisteria; or Kokuryu or Black Dragon, a Chinese Wisteria. Every spring, I anticipate the flowering of a magnificent wisteria vine that has insinuated itself into several trees on a vacant lot. The vine has climbed perhaps 20 feet towards the sky and claims three trees as its own. When it blooms, the smell is heady, and the hanging clusters are magnificent, reaching almost 18 inches when in full bloom.
I love that no one touches this vine, that it grows freely, with pure abandon. I have watched its blooming every spring for years now, each year praying that no human has interferred with its manifest destiny to own the trees, the bushes, anything and everything that grows in its path. Nature, unaltered, is powerful and resplendent to behold.
Nature in all of its wondrous forms always amazes me. I am always finding new things each time I look with a careful eye. More later. Peace.
“The Rose” by Cy Twombly (acrylic on plywood). Twombly has used phrases from Rilke’s poems on this series and a previous series of paintings.
“Build Your Life In Accordance With This Necessity” ~ Rilke
In 1903, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote 10 letters to a young man who was considering entering the German military. The young man, a poet, asked Rilke to criticize his poetry. Rilke’s correspondence lasted over five years. Upon Rilke’s death, the young man took the letters, omitted his own side of the correspondence, and published a valuable compilation of Rilke’s personal aethetics on poetry, the creative process, and life.
Letters to a Young Poet, written in Rilke’s native German, has been translated several times over the years, and is a favorite of poets and writers, particularly because of its honest depiction of a solitary artist’s unedited thoughts on writing. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that each translation bears the mark of the translator. In essence we are not supposed to see the translator, but that is a very hard feat to achieve.
The passage I have included below comes from a 1999 translation by Stephen Mitchell.
I chose this passage because it addresses the questions that I have been asking myelf of late: Do I have what it takes to be a writer? In response to Rilke’s question of whether or not I must write, the answer is a definitive yes. I must. I don’t know what would happen if I were forbidden to write. If my computer were taken away from me, it would be a hardship because writing by hand is harder on my hands, but I don’t think that it would keep me from writing. Not after coming this far.
It would slow down my output. But now that I am this disciplined about writing every day—every day—something I never imagined I would be able to do, I cannot imagine going back to not doing this. It is as natural as breathing to me. But I wish that I had a Rilke to look at my work and say, “Yes. You must keep doing this. It is outside you as much as it is inside you.” And then I would know that I have a chance. That May Sarton wasn’t the only late bloomer.
Enjoy this selection (emphasis added mine) from Letter #1, written in Paris in 1903:
You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you—no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: Must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: They are the hardest to work with, and it takes great, fully-ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty—describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity, and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place.
And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds—wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance—And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: For you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it.
A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: To go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take the destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.
But after this descent into yourself and into your solitude, perhaps you will have to renounce becoming a poet (if, as I have said, one feels one could live without writing, then one shouldn’t write at all). Nevertheless, even then, this self-searching that I ask of you will not have been for nothing. Your life will still find its own paths from there, and that they may be good, rich, and wide is what I wish for you, more than I can say.
What else can I tell you? It seems to me that everything has its proper emphasis; and finally I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to question that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer. ~ RMR
Perhaps tomorrow, my outlook will be more positive. More later. Peace.