". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Literature Class Today

In homeschool literature class today, we spent some time on Japanese and Chinese literature (thus, my previous post). Imagine trying to get a flavor of two several-thousand-years-old literary traditions in the span of a one-hour class period! Kind of a losing proposition, but at least we tried. In the process we discovered a few gems, which I hope you will take a few moments to experience for yourself. Even if you are not a regular imbiber of poetry, I think you will find these to be quite accessible and readily appreciated.

Here's one that had my class falling off their chairs in laughter. I'm not sure it was intended to be funny, but oh well . . .

"Drinking Alone With the Moon" - Li Po, China, 701-62

From a pot of wine among the flowers
I drank alone. There was no one with me
Till raising my cup, I asked the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
Alas, the moon was unable to drink
And my shadow tagged me vacantly;
But still for a while I had these friends
To cheer me through the end of spring.
I sang. The moon encouraged me.
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.
As long as I knew, we were born companions.
And then I was drunk and we lost one another.
Shall goodwill ever be secure?
I watch the long road of the river of stars.

Here are two that especially resonated with me. Can you figure out why?

"Without All That Racket" - T'ao Ch'ien, China, 365-427 B.C

I live in town without all that racket
horses and carts stir up, and you wonder

how that could be. Wherever the mind
dwells apart is itself a distant place.

Picking chrysanthemums at my east fence,
far off, I see South Mountain:

mountain air lovely at dusk, birds in flight
returning home. All this means something,

something absolute. Whenever I start
explaining it, I've forgotten the words.

"Although the Wind" - Izumi Shikibu - Japan, 974?-1034?

Although the wind
blows terribly here
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

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