Monday, March 28, 2016

Yesterday I mixed up potting soil in the greenhouse, spread ashes on the thawing vegetable garden, shook fresh shavings onto the herb-garden paths. I baked hot cross buns and goat cheese lasagna and a sponge cake. I read a Trollope novel and scrubbed the bathtub and listened to a Velvet Underground record and vacuumed the living room.

The crocuses are beginning to open. Rhubarb is thrusting red knobs through leaf mulch. The cat stalks two fat mourning doves.

I open the collected poems of Jack Gilbert and read, "How astonishing it is that language can almost mean, / and frightening that it does not quite."

In an hour or so I will drive south, into rain. At dusk I will turn north again, into rain. "When the storm hit," writes Gilbert, "I was fording the river / and thinking of Doctor Johnson."

For the moment, though, crows still wheel and shout in the empty sky. It is not raining yet.

* * *

Tu Fu readers: Because I'll be on the road for most of this week, I'm going to ask you to take the lead on discussions of the most recent assignment (poems XXIV through XXX). Here are few possible prompts; but if you'd have something else you'd like to discuss, by all means bring it up. The first question is pretty straightforward; the last one is the most speculative. Follow whichever path you prefer.
What images do you like best and why? 
Do the images seem to extend across the poems? 
Does imagery do different work in different poems? 
How does the choice of images help the poet balance the weight of the tangible against the intangible?

6 comments:

Peg Duthie said...

The two images I find most compelling at the moment on first read are:

The bright gold spilled on the river is never still (xxix)

and

The great heroes and generals of old time
Are yellow dust forever now.
(xxx)

XXIX as a whole doesn't strike me as a successful poem -- "isolate and full" immediately rubs me the wrong way (why not "isolated"?) And I don't think I've ever seen the moon as a a "circle without blemish." And seeing moonlight described as gold rather than silver doesn't resonate with me either. But by itself, the vision of light on a river never being still is one I find arresting, and a contrast to the "vacant, wide constellations" later in XXIX, which in turn corresponds somewhat to the expanse invoked in "between the stars." (Though "vacant, wide" is another pair of adjectives that didn't click for me on first read, given what I know about how busy and cluttered outer space actually is.)

"Bright gold" also offers both a connection and contrast to "yellow dust forever" -- gold/yellow being in the same slice of the color wheel, gold specks of light vs. yellow specks of what used to be bone/flesh, the impermanence of moonlight vs. the impermanence of human achievements. And I can testify from my doomed attempts to tidy up my house that dust is likewise never still. At the same time, I viscerally disagree with "forever" -- dust changes color as it seeds clouds or is folded into floods or is breathed into bodies and transformed into cysts or tears or other constructions/secretions.

Put another way, I am not the right reader (or at least not in the right frame of mind) for the last two poems. On the other hand, I just doubled back to XXVIII, with its fat bears and west wind, and while I can't turn off the dissection even there (can the poet really study the crescent moon through mist?) I do like its atmosphere of the narrator taking in the start of the evening while the animals go about their business.

Dawn Potter said...

I'm going to argue in favor of "isolate." To my ear, it is rhythmically exact; the extra syllable in "isolated" would damage the cadence of the line. I also like its grammatical ambiguity: is it a noun or an archaic verb form? The uncertainty intrigues me.

JF said...

--I cut off too soon--

Hinton's version of the line KR renders as "The circle without blemish" is:
"Not yet flawed, it drifts."

Here is the entire D.H. version:

Full Moon

Above the tower--a lone, twice-sized moon.
On the cold river passing night-filled homes,
It scatters restless gold across waves.
On mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.

Empty peaks, silence: among sparse stars,
Not yet flawed, it drifts. Pine and cinnamon
Spreading in my old garden....All light,
All ten thousand miles at once in its light!

Carlene said...


Perhaps it’s because I was reading/teaching Ezra Pound today that I felt ready to talk about Tu Fu. It would be too easy to say I was jolted into action by reading “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter,” though some clear connections appeared to me between that poem and poems XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX. The fragility of beauty, with the undercurrent of sadness or disconnect, seems most prevalent. Such lines as “Anchored to the pilings are/Boats from eastern Wu/Three thousand miles from home” (XXVII) recall the wistfulness of the speaker in “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter,” as she wonders where her husband is, and she vows to meet him, no matter how far away he is. In XXVIII, there’s also that longing: “I wait here for the west wind….” In poem XXIX, I am captivated by the language. I, too, love “isolate” as a word choice; my ear also hears “desolate” which goes well with “empty” and “vacant” and, again, the miles as noted. I don’t, however, think the “circle without blemish” necessarily refers to the moon: I think, instead, that the unblemished circle is the entirety of the images as built. The speaker moves from the moon to the moving water of the river to the “brilliance of [the] quilt” that is “greater than precious silk.” The continuity implied –speaker to moon to river to quilt—could be seen as a circle, a one-ness that is captured in the last line: “the same clear glory extends for ten thousand miles.” The glory that is present to the speaker is also universal.

Back to Pound for a minute: in poem XXIV, the last two lines resonate with the same metrical impulse as “In a Station of the Metro”…just listen to it! “Over the steaming marshes/Ducks in pairs drowse on the warm sand.”

It seems I’m more drawn to the tone of these poems, more-so than the use of imagery. Granted, the images build the tone, but the words of disconnection, loss, and wistfulness run throughout all of the selected poems. Even when the imagery has painted a sunny, calm, nature-laden picture, the note of melancholy filters in. Perhaps it’s my reception of the poems? It’s always an intangible but unavoidable thing, this connection between reader and poem. What one brings to it, one often hears as well, a sort of echo…

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/river-merchants-wife-letter
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/station-metro

Ruth said...

Despite evidence to the contrary, Ihave been reading, but not organized enough to respond. Because I have been working with a small group of kinderrgarteners at a local multi-age school, XXVII Far Up The River has spoken to me in a very personal way. We have been taking about color, what it could represent, how it makes us feel and how we could expand the image. I shall use this poem on my next visit. I especially like how the concrete color words are used to paint a more complete, artistic image. Then, the concept of time and position elevate this from a simple list of images to another level.

Dawn Potter said...

In a workshop yesterday, I found myself noticing the way in which certain poems slow down the cadence in order to create a particular sense of otherworldly focus--as if the sound of the poem is itself a version of its intangible theme. (JF: you were at the workshop, so maybe you can recast my comment here more cogently.) In any case, it seems to me that at times Tu Fu is this sort of poet.