Sunday, November 14, 2010

Poem of the Week: "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter," by Ezra Pound

I recently got an iPhone (yes, I feel like a jerk just saying it) and one of the first apps I put on it was from the Poetry Foundation. I'm already addicted to this thing. There are two sets of categories and you can manually move the two categories to get combinations that generate a list of poems by matching subject matter. Even better, you can shake the phone and a random match of categories will show up. That's how I got today's poem. I shook the phone and ended up with the bizarre combo of "Love" and "Boredom." One of the first poems on the list was one I recognized and had forgotten how much I loved: Ezra Pound's "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter."

Pound was very interested in Chinese poetry, and this poem comes straight from that obsession. He thought Chinese poetry from hundreds of years ago matched his belief that image was the ultimate truth and goal of good poetry. Some people roll their eyes at the way Pound basically stole Chinese poems and created super-loose translations of them. No matter how you feel about Pound's issues, though, you have to admit that this poem is something of a stunner. It's voice and series of images is quite gorgeous. Also, considering my dislike of Pound in general, you know I have to like this one quite a bit to showcase it here. Enjoy!

The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter, by Ezra Pound

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played 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 far Ku-to-Yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise 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 this 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.

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