Thursday, November 15, 2012


The other day I was reminded of Ezra Pound's great poem "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter"  and was introduced to Edward Hirsch's response "The River Merchant: A Letter Home", written 25 years later.
Both are lovely.

The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter
By Ezra Pound         

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.  I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
   As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

From the Chinese of Li Po.



The River Merchant: A Letter Home
By Edward Hirsch

Sometimes the world seems so large,
You have no idea. Out here at dusk
The barges pull the heaviest cargo, sometimes
They drag whole ships to the sea. Imagine
The sound of geese shrieking everywhere,
More geese than you can imagine,
Clustered together and flapping like stars.
Sometimes there are two moons shining at
Once, one clouded in the treetops, one
Breaking into shadows on the river.
I don’t know what this means.

But from the hill’s brow I can see
The lights in every village flickering on,
One by one, but slowly, like this,
Until the whole world gleams
Like small coins. Believe me:
There are so many villages like ours,
So many lights all gleaming together
But all separate too, like those moons.
It is too much. I am older now.
I want to return to that fateful place
Where the river narrows toward home.


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