Dialogues without Words (1)

The Bridge Not Crossed

I saw you come across the bridge, and watched
the way you walked, and how your gracile figure matched
the gliding stream below. I saw your eyes;
they met with mine from all across the way, and I wondered
as I watched you, unattended, quite alone, if someone,
somewhere, waited, and claimed you as his own.
Or if… if you were unattached… would you pause with me
and smile, and – talk? With me, approaching on the bridge?
I think you looked at me once more. Yes, nearer now,
you did, I’m sure.

We drew abreast. You gave, like me, a shy
and scouting glance, but preordained, and edged, I saw,
with that ill-starred, fated nonchalance, that doom laid
in an ancient past on such as you and I. We looked away,
uncertain hearts, and passed each other by.

Note:  Modelled on a poem, ‘Of a maiden walking alone on the great bridge of Kawachi’, in the Manyõshu (the Collection of a Myriad Leaves), the oldest extant collection of classical Japanese poetry. The poem forms part of the ‘Mushimaro Collection’ and is likely – but not conclusively ascertained  although the collection bears his name – to be the work of Takahashi Mushimaro, an important poet of the Nara period (latter half of the 8th century AD). In Wales it was the age of the Cynfeirdd, in Anglo-Saxon England the age of the Beowulf poem, and a predominant eulogistic / heroic tradition which is in contrast to the sensitivity of much of the Manyõshu and the contemporary poetry that was flourishing in China’s T’ang Dynasty’s ‘Golden Age’ of literature. For another poem modelled on an item in the Manyõshu, see ‘The Colour of Time’ in the listed poems.

Jac the Lad Practises Pro Bono Ophthalmology

They look straight through me,
as though I am not there –
they look straight through me
with a robot stare.
Madam doesn’t want to know.
(I only want to say hello!)

They flutter insecurely
and quickly try to hide  –
they flutter insecurely …
gorilla at her side;
no telling if she’s friend or foe.
(I only want to say hello!)

They shine demurely
before they look away  –
they shine demurely,
but don’t know what to say.
Maybe yes, or maybe no.
(I only want to say hello!)

They fix upon mine surely
attended by a smile –
they fix upon mine surely
without a trace of guile;
friendly, open. Way to go!
(I only want to say – hohoh…!)

Note:  Although this is an imaginary episode, ‘Jac the Lad’ is a real person who I once met (see ‘Adversity, Phantaseuphoria and Jac the Lad’ in the listed poems). The frivolity of Jac’s overt questing – something which is, knowing Jac, hardly intended as a prelude to breaking anyone’s heart – stands in calculated contrast to the shy genuineness of feeling expressed in the preceding ‘A Bridge not Crossed’. But to return to a sense of sobriety:

Fleeting Thoughts across Tung-Yang Stream
(From the Chinese of Hsieh Ling-yun, 385-433AD)

Nice … but some man’s wife, I think,
bathing those white feet there in the stream.
Like the lovely moon – lost now in clouds –
and for me, ah, out of reach!

Nice… but surely some girl’s husband,
sailing that white skiff along the stream.
Dare I ask him what he has in mind?
Oh! Now clouds have washed across the moon!

From ‘Mysteries: Poetic Reflections on Womankind and Love’ / ‘Beneath the Silver River: Translations of Classical Chinese Poetry’

4 thoughts on “Dialogues without Words (1)

  1. These ancient Japanese and Chinese poems are exceptional in their portrayal of the intimate thoughts and feelings engendered by chance meetings with an attractive stranger. Desire and also troubling thoughts are beautifully captured here, so honest, perceptive and very modern. Diolch am rannu ac am wybodaeth ychwanegol Dafydd.

    Liked by 1 person

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