Saturday, August 8, 2015

WITMonth Day 8 - Classics Challenge - Yu Xuanji's poetry

Yu Xuanji's The Clouds Float North - a collection of the poet's entire poetic repertoire, circa the 9th century, translated by David Young and Jiann I. Lin - is a slim volume, and I'm not quite through it yet. But as inexperienced as I am in reviewing poetry (that is, as bad as I am...), I found myself lingering over a few specific lines and wanting just to share the clarity in these very old poems.

The first thing I noticed is the strange diversity of them: The Clouds Float North is an odd mishmash of flowery language, personal and shared poetry. Some poems here are clearly metaphorical, gently referencing all manner of social interactions. Others are introspective, detailing those small feelings that aren't always easy to put to words. And then there are the universal (ubiquitous) poems about nature and the flow of water or whatever. Beautiful and all, but not necessarily particularly noteworthy. I wouldn't have expected them to be noteworthy, at least.

I'm finding myself drawn much more towards the introspective poems sent to friends - tiny fragments of thoughts which have come down through the years and still fully represent humanity:
I alone feel yearning
without any limit
reciting my own poems
staring up through the pines.
 It's often the punchlines which make me pause and smile, some gentle reminder that humans haven't really changed all that much and our desires - to share our thoughts and words with loved ones - are effectively universal. Yu Xuanji's writing has that slightly transcendent quality of something otherworldly, but totally human as well. And reading her poems makes me feel warm inside, moved by more than just the flowery language or the fact that these poems have been around for far, far longer than I have. This is classic literature I probably never would have known of if not for the Women in Translation project, and I'm glad I'm getting this chance to experience it.

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