Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Ten cups, and still we are not drunk," or, Looking at nature from the bottom of a glass

{Photos by rocketlass.}

As the visit of an out-of-town friend rightly takes precedence over blogging tonight, today's post will be short--and since later on I'm sure to be raising a glass with my friend, it seems only right to continue with a theme touched on in Sunday's post, that of tipsy nature poetry!

I cited one example on Sunday from New Directions's new anthologies of Chinese and Japanese poetry translated by Kenneth Rexroth; today I have another to share, from twelfth-century Chinese poet Lu Yu {also known as Lu You}:
Evening in the Village

Here in the mountain village
Evening falls peacefully.
Half tipsy, I lounge in the
Doorway. The moon shines in the
Twilit sky. The breeze is so
Gentle the water is hardly
Ruffled. I have escaped from
Lies and trouble. I no longer
Have any importance. I
Do not miss my horses and
Chariots. Here at home I
Have plenty of pigs and chickens.
I suppose it's possible that the speaker's assertions are here less than straightforward; one could read this poem as an attempt by the speaker, who has come down in the world, to convince, not just us, but himself as well, of his satisfaction in the simple pleasures that he now has no choice but to accept as his lot.

I prefer, however, to read it as honest, an evocation of a quiet evening that has followed pleasantly on a quiet day, the transition smoothed by the pleasure of a drink or two. It makes me pine for warm summer breezes and long twilights, for back-steps weather and condensation collecting on my martini glass.

In his "Rain on the River," also collected in Songs of Love, Moon, and Wind: Poems from the Chinese, Lu Yu acknowledges that such lubricated appreciation of nature can carry a cost, drunken insomnia--though even that can offer pleasures to the attentive :
At midnight I am awake,
Heavy with wine. The smoky
Lamp is still burning. The rain
Is still sighing in the bamboo
Thatch of the cabin of the boat.
All of which makes me wonder whether there any good American tipsy nature poets? Off the top of my head . . . Walt Whitman's exuberance carries with it some of the happy drunk's cup-runneth-over joy, but that's no good: Whitman was abstemious, and even wrote a temperance novel. Wendell Berry's eye for nature is wonderful, and in his fiction he is very good at depicting the social pleasures of drinking, but Berry the nature poet and Berry the raconteur don't really intermingle.

Surely there's someone obvious I'm missing? The floor is open for nominations . . .

1 comment:

  1. I agree per the Whitman, but what of the barflies: Bukowski and Berryman?