Saturday, June 29, 2019


I am easy to please.  Mind you, I make no claim to uniqueness of character or to philosophical attainment.  No, any easy-to-pleaseness that I may possess is, I suspect, due in large part to growing old.  I can perhaps trace it back to the day when it occurred to me that, purely as a matter of simple, incontrovertible numerical reckoning, the number of years left to me above ground was now, beyond a doubt, less than the number of years I had already lived.

A thought of this sort tends to focus your attention.  After the initial dismay and wonderment pass ("where did all those years go?"), you may develop a new sense of what is important, what is not.  There is certainly no reason to brood over what is unchangeable:  a boundary has been set.  So be it.  No need to mourn.  At the same time, a feeling of freedom arrives.  And that which is extraneous begins to drop away, day by day.  Vistas open up.  After all, why not live?

                    The Traveler's Moon

A traveler has come from south of the Yangtze;
when he set out, the moon was a mere crescent.
During the long long stages of his journey
three times he saw its clear light rounded.
At dawn he followed a setting moon,
evenings lodged with a moon newly risen.
Who says the moon has no heart?
A thousand long miles it's followed me.
This morning I set out from Wei River Bridge,
by evening had entered the streets of Ch'ang-an.
And now I wonder about the moon --
whose house will that traveler put up at tonight?

Po Chü-i (772-846) (translated by Burton Watson), in Po Chü-i, Selected Poems (Columbia University Press 2000), page 109.

Harald Sohlberg (1869-1935), "Night" (1904)

Each morning, I read a poem to start the day.  One morning this past week I read "The Traveler's Moon."  After doing so, a Japanese waka came immediately to mind.  Or at least the gist of it.  I went to one of my bookshelves, and found it where I suspected it was.

     Down from the mountain,
The moon
     Accompanied me,
And when I opened the gate,
The moon too entered.

Kotomichi (1798-1868) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 388.

Kotomichi's poem has stayed with me since the day I first read it. How lovely it was to now discover Po Chü-i's poem, and to have the both of them together, paired, for the rest of my life.  At around 8:30 in the morning, my day was already overflowing.  I read no more poems that day.  The two poems deserved to be left alone.  I was content to let them sit.  I am easy to please.

Harald Sohlberg, "Flower Meadow in the North" (1905)


Nikki said...

I, too, read a poem every morning. It is balm for the battering my soul takes from the daily news. I can't stop reading/watching/caring what is happening in our country, but poetry gives me a little eternity to hang onto and makes me hopeful that beauty and love will somehow survive this present brutality.

Stephen Pentz said...

Nikki: It is a good habit, isn't it? As for "the daily news" and "brutality," I shall not comment since this is a politics-free blog -- other than to say that when it comes to "news," one is always well-advised to consider the source, whether one is in ancient Greece, 19th century England, or modern-day America.

As always, thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.