Songs of Love,
Moon & Wind

Poems from the Chinese
Kenneth Rexroth,

(New Directions)
We always believed that Ezra Pound's translation from Riyuku, "The River Merchant's Wife," was his most exotic and sensual poem bar none ... better than most of his original works.

Translations, as we all know, are but a gestält --- one man's sensibility stuffed into another's, with a concurrent freedom from responsibility. Pound's near-peer, Kenneth Rexroth, was even more unimpressive as a poet, but was as fine a critic, and a translator of considerable merit (although his knowledge of Japanese and Chinese was not extensive; he played it by ear).

Songs of Love, Moon & Wind consists of eighty poems drawn from 3,000 years of Chinese poetry, and touches on every image we've come to expect in classic oriental verse: cold, loneliness, mountains, mourning, the moon, Spring, Fall, time leaking away, drunkenness. And most of all, a delicacy of expression:

    Spring flowers, Autumn moons,
    Water lilies still carry
    Away my heart like a lost
    Boat. As long as I am flesh
    And bone I will never find
    Rest. There will never come
    Time when I will be able
    To resist my emotions.

This ease and elegance will puzzle those of us who remember Rexroth's antics from the fifties. He was famous in the San Francisco scene not only for his radio commentaries for KPFA --- which were soporific at best --- but for his appearance on stage, muttering his poems, a few jazz musicians wailing in the background.

The subtlety of these eighty translations betrays a richer side of his character, a side that is worthy of our attention and affection. Delicacy, gentleness, slight self-mockery:

    Reading in the heat of noon
    I grow sleepy, put my head
    On my arms and fall asleep.
    I forget to close the window
    And the warm air blows in
    And covers my body with petals.

--- Wah Eng

    Note: New Directions has published Written on the Sky, a companion volume. It consists of some ninety Rexroth translations from the Japanese. It is equally worthy:
    All day I hoe weeds.
    All night I sleep.
    All night I hoe again
    In dreams the weeds of the day.
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