Friday, July 09, 2004

That Time of Year

Reading through Stephen Owen’s Anthology of Chinese Literature I was struck again by how few themes dominate poetry, especially lyric poetry, and how few genuinely novel sentiments ever appear. According to the ancient Classic of Documents, “The Poem articulates what is on the mind intently.” Apparently nothing makes the mind more intent than the bloodshot dawn of old age, though there really isn’t more to say about it than there is to do about it; and the master plot of all those poems can be provided all too easily as in my contribution to the genre:

The Poet’s Keen Awareness of his Approaching Decrepitude


Of course it could be that Chinese were wrong about what poetry is about and that “what’s on the mind intently” is just another formal element like rhyme or meter. Or maybe it is an instance of a deeper artifice to deny a really depressing fact by concentrating on it in a patterned way.

The Japanese poet Michizane’s line about the failure of the light: “It was not the wind—the oil is gone.” Let us consider the extent to which this loveliness helps and the extent to which it does not.

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