Thursday, January 21, 2016

Home Again Among Fields and Gardens

Home Again Among Fields and Gardens

By T’ao Ch'ien

Translated by David Hinton

Nothing like all the others, even as a child,
rooted in such love for hills and mountains,

I stumbled into their net of dust, that one
departure a blunder lasting thirteen years.

But a tethered bird longs for its old forest,
and a pond fish its deep waters – so now,

my southern outlands cleared, I nurture
simplicity among these fields and gardens,

home again. I’ve got nearly two acres here,
And four or five rooms in this thatch hut,

elms and willows shading the eaves in back,
and in front, peach and plum spread wide.

Villages lost in mist-and-haze distances,
kitchen smoke drifting wide-open country,

dogs bark deep across back roads out here,
and roosters crow from mulberry treetops.

No confusion within these gates, no dust,
My empty home harbors idleness to spare.

Back again: after so long caged in that trap,
I’ve returned to occurrence coming of itself.

 This poem was written around 400 C.E by T’ao Ch’en, the poet who essentially initiated Chinese Poetic tradition. T'ao Ch'ien (365-427) was the first major Chinese poet to speak in a direct personal voice about the full range of his immediate experience. The figure of the poet withdrawing from worldly pursuit ('net of dust', indicating corruption and grime)  in favor of spiritual and artistic refinement in natural surroundings became the primary persona  of subsequent Chinese poetry.

What makes this poem archetypal is that it tells the story of this “first poet” giving up empty pursuit of professional ambition and returning home to the more spiritually fulfilling life of a recluse in mountains. T’ao’s return to his farm became a legendary ideal that virtually all later poets and intellectuals revered, and the deeper reason for this is found in the final words of the poem:”occurrence by itself”. This term (the Chinese term is tzu-jan) has been translated through the lens of Western cultural assumptions as “nature” or “freedom”, which reduces thisto a kind of sweet pastoral poem of romantic escapism. But this is neither escapism nor sentimental pastoralism: it is a poem about returning to a life in which perpetual unfolding of Lao Tzu’s organic cosmology is the very texture of daily existence.

The vision of “tzu-jan” recognizes earth to be a boundless generative organism, and this vision gives rise to a very different experience of the world. Rather than the metaphysics of time and space, it knows the world as an all-encompassing present, a constant burgeoning forth that includes everything we think of as past and future. It also allows no fundemental distinction between the subjective and objective realms, for it includes all that we call mental, all that apperas in the mind. This spiritual ecology of “tzu-jan” was something that was deeply admired by later poets of the Sung Dynasty.

Source : The Selected Poems of T'ao Ch'ien Paperback – May 1, 2000
by Tao Chien (Author), David Hinton (Translator)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Trying Again to Stop Time

Trying Again to Stop Time

by Jalal Barazanji.

Translated by Sabah A . Salih.

At sunrise
time begins to depart;
at sundown
time turns unto intense darkness.

When I travel,
I can’t wait to arrive,
But when I arrive,
I see that time is there already.

Sometimes ,
no more than a quick look toward the east is needed
for my past to turn into present;
in a flash time takes me back to reality—
it resembles a wooden stretcher,
like the one leaning against a mosque wall.

With the hours of love coming to an end,
time becomes my biggest obstacle,
even as my wife and I reach ecstasy.

It’s a losing battle:
my words have no chance against time.
unable to catch up with imagination,
I leave the battle, candle in hand,
in complete darkness.

nature , too, is like that:
grass is unstoppable in the spring
but in autumn it is in full retreat

Often I see my words sinking in time’s depth.
Often I see some of these words resurfacing,
the little waves they create fleeing away sheepishly.
It’s a battle I can never win.

 Jalal Barzanji is a highly respected Kurdish poet and journalist. He has published seven books of poetry and numerous critical columns. After his two-year imprisonment by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the late 1980s and further political repression into the 1990s, Barzanji and his family fled to Turkey. They remained there for eleven months, eventually immigrating to Canada.

 In his first his collection of poetry to appear in English titled “Trying Again to Stop Time”,  Jalal Barzanji chronicles the path of exile and estrangement from his beloved native Kurdistan to his chosen home in Canada. His poems speak of the tension that exists between the place of one’s birth and an adoptive land, of that delicate dance that happens in the face of censorship and oppression. In defiance of Saddam Hussein’s call for sycophantic political verse, he turns to the natural world to reference a mournful state of loss, longing, alienation, and melancholy. Barzanji’s poetry is infused with the richness of the Middle East, but underlying it all is a close affinity to Western Modernists. In those moments where language and culture collide and co-operate, Barzanji carves out a strong voice of opposition to political oppression.

His poetry is political, personal and interrogating. It asks questions of governments, of individuals in power and of ourselves as citizens, readers, and artists. It also dwells on the helplessness of the poet against the ravage of time (I leave the battle, candle in hand, /in complete darkness). While many poems cross boundaries and decades, Barzanji’s work is intensely immediate, while always acknowledging the swift passage of time:

"in a flash time takes me back to reality—
it resembles a wooden stretcher
like the one leaning against the Mosque wall

With the hours of love coming to an end,
time becomes my biggest obstacle,
even as my wife and I reach ecstasy."

In passages such as this, Barzanji successfully blends the political with the personal in a way that rarely feels heavy-handed. The quick mention of the stretcher against the Mosque wall alerts the reader to war and strife, even at the moment the speaker and his wife “reach ecstasy.” The interconnectedness of lives—in war and in love—threads through the book, and the poems are well chosen in their common theme of the passage of time, and in one man’s attempt to stop it.  

From: Trying Again to Stop the Time by Jalal Barazanji. Translated by Sabah A . Salih. The University of Alberta Press.