Focus: Poetry and Song
Poetry is often represented to us as a rather inaccessible form of art, whether it be because of our lack of knowledge of the references made in classical poetry, or because the wit and honesty of a certain age, looks, in retrospect, trite and sentimental in the contemporary world, or even due to the apparent resistance to interpretation displayed by Modernist poetry. However, to view poetry, a form that by all accounts, predates literacy, as something erudite and far-removed is to ignore the form of poetry that makes up the fabric of our daily lives, song. So, this month, eRenlai has taken a closer look at the relationship between song and poetry.
Where is Poetry to be found in our life? Like oxygen, Poetry is to be found everywhere – and nowhere in particular. Like oxygen also, Poetry is rarely found pure and unmixed – it reaches us in composition with other gases, and this is what makes us able to breathe and flourish. Still, when oxygen becomes too rarefied we need a bottle of it, and inhale it at its purest. Poems – sometimes only one verse, a couple of lines - are like supply bottles that make us able to go on when we feel asphyxiated. But Poetry comes under many garbs, and likes to mix with the profane and the ordinary.
Living without Poetry makes one wither and dry out. Life has no taste, resonance or nuance anymore, thoughts and projects pile up in the shelves of the mind like strings of empty shells. But Poetry is always at hand. For sure, there are environments that naturally bathe our life in Poetry – when we live near forests, lakes or mountains, when people around us walk at a leisurely pace, when music resonates at our gate. However, breathing Poetry throughout our life is first and foremost a question of inner attention: I am the one who decides to stop my work for a while and to listen to some beloved piece of music or take time to discover an author, some of whose verses I had heard one day. I may choose to go to the park and marvel at the trees and their birds rather than staying at my computer. I can rediscover the smile of the people living near me, and offer them in gratitude the smile I so often forget to illuminate my face with.
It's not so easy, for sure. I am presently living in an apartment located on the 20th floor, and my office is in a tower, on the 26th floor. No matter what window I look out of, I just see roads and groups of towers… At the start, I did suffer a lot from it: the landscape and rhythm of life made me feel dry. Poetry flew away from me, leaving my imagination, my will, my memory, dried out and empty. Step by step, I had to learn again, to find Poetry in silence, prayer, the reading of a book – a new one or an old companion -, the rediscovery of music. I also found Poetry in dreaming over these endless ranges of towers, especially when night is falling. And I gave myself time to create objects of Poetry – drawings and paintings, short texts, emails that were not for “business” but which I took pleasure to carve as if they were little artworks. Also, I decided to walk more. Whatever the environment, there is something in walking that is akin to Poetry. Many poems after all were composed, in ancient times, to accompany the work in the fields, the wandering on the roads, the dance during the ritual…
In new environments, Poetry surges in new forms. For its oxygen to fill and replenish our life Poetry requires from us skills and virtues that are timeless: a sense of playfulness and gratuitousness, a willingness to pause and to listen, and a desire to respond in chants, words and works to the gift we receive when we walk on the road and we breathe Poetry.
Father Versus Son, A Revision of the Old Classics
The Taiwanese use the phrase “sweet burden” (tian mi de fu he 甜蜜的負荷) to describe the ambivalent relationship between parent and child. The phrase derived from poet Wu Sheng’s(吳晟) poem “Burden” (fu he負荷). The immense popularity of the poem can be partially attributed to its inclusion as Chinese literature textbook material, even more so perhaps becauseof its colloquial and vivid description of the bittersweet parenting experience that resonates with so many people. “Burden” was written in 1977, that was when Wu Sheng first tried hishand at parenting. Nobody expected that 30 years later, he would join forces with his second son Wu Zu-lin (吳志寧) to give “Burden” as well as his other poems a new life.
How do we measure the distance between poetry and ourselves?
It’s not thousands of miles away at the bottom of the Ocean, it’s also not in a star a few light years away. By simply strolling into a KTV we can find vestiges of poetry. By simply humming along to a song, we can fill our heart with poetic feeling, and slowly wash away the dust of time.
Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart
Everyone, whether to a greater extent or a lesser, has a few melodies or a few lines of poetry which come to mind easily, without a deliberate effort to chase them out; they slip out at just the right moment, nurturing us.
A poem or a song, in context, can become a lover, or a confidante, you understand them, they understand you, and nothing can come between you.
Six lovers of poetry, six songs each with its own story, each revealing a different aspect of life. Then, may we think, is poetry so much farther removed from our laughter or our tears than song?
If one were to imagine someone's life as the changing seasons, the aboriginal Tsou tribe musician, Gao Yisheng, could be said to have missed out on the plentitude of summer's harvest and skipped straight into the bleakness of autumn and winter.
Former teacher at the College de France, translator, essayist and poet, Michael Edwards is a specialist in Shakespeare's plays; he's also very keen on classic and modern theater (Molière, Claudel, etc..), poetry and spirituality.
He's written many books about such topics. This interview was inspired by an article published in the French periodical Etvdes (may 2011) and insists on the human and spiritual aspect of the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare. This interview shares with us the capacity of wonder in the comedies of Shakespeare as well as the great sense of human passion displayed in his tragedies: the songs let the spectator enter into another world within the present tense, a world made of marvels, irony and pains. In the world of Shakespeare, there is no time for idleness; the language of songs tells what can't be grasped within the imperishable movement of voices and dialogues.
This second video insists on the genuine "mirth" displayed in the comedies of Shakespeare. The celebration of carpe diem by the lovers expresses a trust in what love means for both man and woman. It opens people to the plenitude of the "now and here" while suggesting with a tender irony a transcendantal dimension of human life.
This third video speaks of the notion of "atonement" : it signifies a deep and secret correspondance between things, even if remote at first sight. It illustrates the passion for "oneness" at work in the heart of the poet. It points also to the depth of reconciliation that music is able to demonstrate, going beyond contradictions of life and enmity.
Alternate for readers in China
Wang Xiong was born in July, 1985 in Taipei, Taiwan, where he still lives with his two cats. He graduated from the Department of Chinese Literature and dropped out of the Master's Program of the Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, he is currently working in journalism. He has previously been awarded National Taiwan University Prize for Modern Verse.This poem won the Modern Poetry Judge's Award of the 34th United Daily News Literature Prize.
Bust of Becquer. Photo by Ana Rey
¿Qué es poesía? -dices mientras clavas
en mi pupila tu pupila azul.
¿Qué es poesía? ¿Y tú me lo preguntas?
Poesía... eres tú.
These four simple lines are considered by many people to be some of the most famous and beautiful in the history of Spanish literature. Written by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, a Romantic poet of 19th century Spain, they roughly translate as:
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