Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Poem by Billy Collins

Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Song Dynasty I Pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of their Titles

It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves

they turn over so many cards so early,

telling us before the first line

whether it is wet or dry,

night or day, the season the man is standing in,

even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.

Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

“Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune

on a Cloudy Afternoon” is one of Sun Tung Po’s.

“Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea”

is another one, or just

“On a Boat, Awake at Night.”

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with

“in a Boat on a Summer Evening

I heard the Cry of a Waterbird.

It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying

My Woman is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem.”

There is no iron turnstile to push against here

as with headings like “Vortex on a String,”

“The Horn of Neurosis,” or whatever.

No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, “I Walk Out on a Summer Morning

to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall”

is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And “Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors”

is a servant who shows me into the room

where a poet with a thin beard

is sitting on a mat witha jug of wine

whispering something about clouds and cold wind,

about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,

to sit down in a corner,

cross my legs like him, and listen.

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