Tag Archives: Li Po

The Heart of Chinese Poetry

Quatrain_on_Heavenly_Mountain I remember clearly the first time I managed to understand a poem in classical Chinese. It was like seeing someone perform an unexpected conjuring trick, shaking out a piece of rope and then tossing it up into the air to make it stand stiffly like a stick . Then back again.

There was certainly some kind of alternation between states which I couldn’t quite understand. How could twenty simple syllables also produce some kind of shimmering complexity. Where was this chemical reaction taking place?

Another way I think of these poems is as of  magic seeds. Hold them in your hands and you see a whole tree, press them tight and they are simple seeds again.
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A Party of One

(Listen to the poem here)

(best seen if you stand back and squint a little and imagine it as a set of slightly cubist paintings with runny paint and everything a little crooked)

Tonight I dine alone but,
better said,
I am a party of one.
I have brought all my music
with me
in my head
and I have
poems read to me
by poets I have never met.
They flit between the waiters
and bend their verses round the oil,
the pepper and the vinegar.
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