Saturday, November 5, 2011

POETRY BREAK #1: "Lament of the Frontier Guard"

Lament of the Frontier Guard
by Ezra Pound

[translated from the Chinese of 'Rihaku,' actually Li Bai (Chinese: , Lǐ Bái or Lǐ Bó; lived 701 – 762)]

Albie's note: I have a real love/hate thing for the American poet, critic, editor, and all-around genius Ezra Pound, [1885-1972]  the Idaho native who is often considered the father of modernist verse. On one hand, he was a real nut-job... an expatriated and arrogant "tortured artist" type who ended up a senile recluse in Italy muttering anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.  

On the other, more interesting, hand, he was a true literary genius who left a body of striking and powerful poetry I always seem to "re-discover" at various stages of my life.  A good Pound poem  is completely unique and rewarding, and the following example, from his classic 1915 volume Cathay, is no exception.  Hope you enjoy this great poem about, among other things,  the eternal perplexity of war.

Lament of the Frontier Guard

By the North Gate, the wind blows full of sand,
Lonely from the beginning of time until now!
Trees fall, the grass goes yellow with autumn.
I climb the towers and towers
to watch out the barbarous land:
Desolate castle, the sky, the wide desert.
There is no wall left to this village.
Bones white with a thousand frosts,
High heaps, covered with trees and grass;
Who brought this to pass?
Who has brought the flaming imperial anger?
Who has brought the army with drums and with kettle-drums?
Barbarous kings.

A gracious spring, turned to blood-ravenous autumn,
A turmoil of wars; men, spread over the middle kingdom,
Three hundred and sixty thousand,
And sorrow, sorrow like rain.
Sorrow to go, and sorrow, sorrow returning,
Desolate, desolate fields,
And no children of warfare upon them,
No longer the men for offence and defence.
Ah, how shall you know the dreary sorrow at the North Gate,
With Rihoku's name forgotten,
And we guardsmen fed to the tigers.

By Rihaku

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