Monday, February 8, 2010

You Have Been Gone Five Months

Tonight, I present to you Ezra Pound's translation of an eighth century poem by Li Po, "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter." What strikes me most particularly about this poem is that it tells a love story without ever mentioning love. Rather than simply post the poem, I will accompany it with a great reading by Jodie Foster through Poetic Touch's YouTube channel.

The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter
Ezra Pound, translated from the work of Li Po

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
Played I about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you,
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into fat Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noises overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early in autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
                        As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

By Rihaku

I was reminded as well of a small poem originating from the Baule tribe of the Ivory Coast, as  found in Grant Hardy's anthology, Enduring Ties. I will share that with you as well. The message, to me, seems to be the same, yet told in fewer words. Interesting that such themes stretch across cultures. 

Song of a Woman Whose Husband Had Gone to the Coast to Earn Money

Whenever I go out of the village
and see a stone
or a tree in the distance,
I think:
It is my husband.

(Twelfth Century)
Adapted from a German translation of the original Baule by Willard R. Trask

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