Mei and I

November 27, 2012

He sits rapt as a parrot overlooking
a perfect mirror image of itself and thinks:
Atonement is a stone in the river.
Astonishment is not.
A poet of the ‘gentle
ideas of philosophy’, the heir
of Ta’o Ch’en, who belongs
to the clarity of poetry,
he has no thoughts on
the toucan encrusted bridge
built across the arc of his life span.
Great is that memory of the mountain, he writes—
for if memory allows you to look backwards,
it also allows a peek into the future,
the spill of the seasons.
The air smells of pears and tears.
This is our poem:

Atonement is a stone in the river.
Together we flow into a gentle sea, Mei and I.
How great is that secret memory of the mountain.

Among many islands, a village appears…

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9 Responses to “Mei and I”


  1. Your poetry soothes the core of our minds…Excellent write. 🙂

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  2. John Stevens Says:

    I sat down with a coffee to read, in fact to reread, your latest poem, Jim. And I was led on a contented amble through Wikipedia’s pages on Chinese poetry, of which I know nothing. Most interesting – so thank you.
    I’ll carry on reading your own lines later (as my wife is calling me to get in the car) – just saying for the moment how much I enjoy certain lines, certain phrases, and the overall mood of contemplation, possibly of melancholy, in a setting of natural beauty.

  3. John Stevens Says:

    I’m back …
    “This is our poem” you write, after the background has been carefully painted. Then you give us four lines, each a complete thought, with a ‘turn’ after the first two, and a caesura in the last line. This seems to follow the classical Chinese form of the jueju – good ol’ Wikipedia (I’ll make my annual donation in December).
    Maybe I’m way off track, but I suspect that there are other hints of the Chinese tradition, in the natural scene, the presence of a person whose thoughts we might try to share, for example.
    I don’t know what to make of ‘Atonement’, but I’ll live with that. It’s there at the centre of the poem (both poems) and is something hard (like that stone) to be stuck with and aware of.
    The closing picture of river, sea, mountains, islands and village is very easy to enjoy. We can see China in this, but also romantic scenes from the western world and in the imagination. And, since you have hinted at Life, and Death, Time and Regret, it is also a metaphorical scene.
    A very beautiful image on which to close, Jim, and as always offered in that quietly thoughtful and teasing voice.

  4. extrasimile Says:

    John, the ‘jueju’ connection is interesting, because while it does have a feel of a jueju, truth to tell, I wrote those lines in complete ignorance of the tradition. (The last line of the poem, by the way, was stolen from a poem by Mei Yao-Ch’en, as it appears in ‘Classical Chinese Poetry’ by David Hinton—Tom D’Evelyn’s recommendation, which I second. It’s an excellent book. Consequently, we have a poem written by ‘Mei and I’, even though one’s grammar gets tortured here. [There is nothing I like better than to torture grammar.]) Still, that you were tempted by the Jueju is heartening because this is really a poem where I’m trying to come to grips with my complete misunderstanding of Chinese poetry, which I would say is more about how words can be transparent and not be a grid you have to work your way through—how words can help you to see, but not help you to focus—than I am willing to credit.
    You are also right to point to the use of the sentence at the end of the poem. Little monads—right?
    By the way, on contributing to the Wikipedia: I’m convinced that one day historians will look back on our time and point to the Wikipedia as being one of the great advances in civilization (along of course with the Internet itself.) It is worthy of our support.

  5. extrasimile Says:

    Charlie Zero, I will be posting some comments soon on your site. Thanks for visiting extrasimile.


  6. Thank goodness for John Stevens, Jim, or I would sometimes be lost:
    He sits rapt as a parrot overlooking
    a perfect mirror image of itself and thinks:
    He is a poet, of course, of the Chinese tradition as John points out. The metaphor is fascinating though:
    rapt as a parrot overlooking a perfect mirror image of itself. A parrot, our course, parrots words and here we have a parroter (that’s probably not a word, though that seldom stops me from using language that seems to be right even if it is wrong) looking at itself in a perfect mirror…
    and the poet, rapt like the parrot, thinks.
    Then,
    Atonement is a stone in the river.
    Astonishment is not.
    What wonderful lines! The meaning can get to you if you think about it, though. Atonement sinks like a stone in the river, existing but never at the surface. Is the river a metaphor for life? Or is atonement something that always sinks out of view, covered over by the riverwater of existence? Astonishment is not like atonement. It is out of the flow, on the surface, there…
    Then we learn a little about Mei:
    A poet of the ‘gentle
    ideas of philosophy’, the heir
    of Ta’o Ch’en, who belongs
    to the clarity of poetry,
    but this leads to:
    he has no thoughts on
    the toucan encrusted bridge
    built across the arc of his life span.
    so we are back to the parrot again and the original metaphor…this in a description of the poet Mei! This gets deep, Jim, as in riverwater. Mei has no thoughts on the toucan encrusted bridge. There are, as is not unusual in your poetry (one of the reasons I am often in awe of what you write), a couple of ways to take this. A toucan encrusted bridge might be encrusted with toucan excrement, or it might be encrusted with the toucan, the parrot that sees itself perfectly reflected in a mirror, as rapt as the poet Mei, itself, the spirit, the meaning of a colorful parrot that has the ability to mimic human language, but lives in a world not easily accessible by humans. Or it might mean both meanings at once.
    But this toucan encrusted bridge spans the life span of Mei…
    Great is that memory of the mountain, he writes— (Mei writes)
    for if memory allows you to look backwards,
    it also allows a peek into the future,
    the spill of the seasons.
    And there is some truth to this. All poets can, perhaps, look at a mountains as see the past that is the mountain in our memories and see the future, the spill of seasons to come on the mountain, a parroting of the past.
    But then,
    The air smells of pears and tears.
    Pears are sometimes used in Chinese poetry, I believe, as a symbol for the purity and sexuality of women. So this line leads to contemplation about Mei and what the poem is really about. The poem in the last four stanzas is a quotation from Mei, a parroting:
    Atonement is a stone in the river.
    Together we flow into a gentle sea, Mei and I.
    How great is that secret memory of the mountain.
    Among many islands, a village appears…
    seems to suggest a story: Atonement has sunk as a stone in the river. Mei and the poet flow together on that river, where atonement is a stone hidden beneath the flow, not dominated by whatever need has generated the stone of atonement, remembering a mountain that contains a secret memory and thus is a secret memory–and then, upon the river, near or even in the estuary of the sea, a village appears, and a new story is at the cusp of beginning.
    And thus the complexity of the parrot metaphor: A poet, ExtraSimilie, parroting an ancient Chinese poem that tells a story that is from a poet that tells a story from a parrot encrusted bridge that spans his lifetime, a lifetime where atonement is a stone in the river of life and astonishment leads to a village that….? O, the stories that lead to stories that lead to contemplation that lead to poetry upon the toucan encrusted bridge of mystery and dropping that we all walk over.

  7. extrasimile Says:

    Mercy, Thomas, this one obviously struck a bell with you. I’m going to have to say it again: Yikes, did I really say that? I guess I did. The parrot; the mirror; the poet, Mei (which my wife tells me means ‘beauty’ in Chinese); the poet, Jim Kleinhenz (which my wife tells me does not mean ‘beauty’ in Chinese); the poet, Mei and I (and I hope you are at least tempted to pronounce ‘Mei’ as ‘me’)—all are engaged in a mimetic activity. The poem at the end of the poem is in a kind of mimetic relationship to the whole poem. To clarify: I wrote the first three lines of this poem, the last line is from the actual Mei Yao-Ch’en. Thus this poem is written by ‘Mei and I’.
    Of course, the ultimate in mimetic reflecting must be the monads. The correlation between the lines of the poem and the sentences of the poem at the end was supposed to, uh, imitate the monads, reflecting each other and reflecting back into the original poem. And, as I said to John, the end poem is supposed to be a first step towards an understanding of a Chinese aesthetic that uses (I venture as an hypothesis) words rather differently than the western tradition: not as a mirror reflecting consciousness, but as a vehicle of the world itself…
    Goodness, now I’m going to have to get out Richard Rorty’s ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.’ I’d better go to bed. Thank you again, Thomas, this was a spectacular reading of my poor poem. I hope you are well. Jim


  8. I spent so much time on a poor poem? Goodness gracious, I don’t think I so! Imitating monads, singularities: I had better be careful or I’ll get lost inside the universe of the perfect mirror, raptly living my gaze, O me and I.

  9. John Stevens Says:

    Well, what a fascinating discussion. And well done, again, Thomas!
    I’m far behind on Chinese poetry. I have an old Penguin paperback anthology, and quite a few Ezra Pound ‘translations’, plus tiny scraps of knowledge from reading Tom D’Evelyn’s blog and your own. Also I enjoy seeing Chinese verses in their calligraphy on painted scrolls (there was a wonderful exhibition in the V&A Museum in London a few years ago) where the three arts come together. But that’s it.
    Knowing that Chinese characters can be read in different dialects and even different languages (Japanese, Korean) has caused me to wonder whether they are necessarily read aloud in the same manner – does the sound or musicality of the words itself matter, or are the images and ideas paramount (cf the imagists of early last century)?


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