Bashō's Road

to the small poem and the quiet voice within

eric chaet & li po | a poem by li po recently discovered in a box containing a child’s toy that won’t stop repeating an infernal noise


Stupid empire, stupid revolutionaries
both would rule me
hard to keep out of their grasp
the bastards
I write these so-called poems
because there’s not much chance
of getting anything longer & coherent
& really useful
thru to those who, like me, are starving for such
past not only the state-appointed & self-appointed censors
but even the calligraphers & messengers
& the reflex-action prejudices of most readers
& the punch-drunk numbness of those giving up on reading
or listening
most of those who’ll bother to read what I write
are crazy about being writers themselves
as tho that would save them
from dealing with our time’s events
they’ve given up on having an effect
on our time, & the coming time, & what comes after
they think progress is a delusion like Heaven & Hell
if you want to call it thinking
they’re crazy about page-appearance fashion
& about who has managed to win a reputation
with or without integrity
saying something otherwise not being said
or saying what this or that clique is eager to celebrate
because it’s what they’re already saying to one another
a thousand different ways, one more way
everyone wants to control
what everyone does & says
& they’re totally out of control, themselves
yeah, I’ve been inebriated now & then
I get cold & scared & there’s not much clean water
except when it snows
not to mention food
maybe it’ll be the death of me
if they have their way
I suppose I’ll end up finally heard from
after I’m dead
famous for being a drunk
who paid no attention to politics
down with the empire
down with every side’s warlords
down with the financiers
renting money they never earned
providing anyone anything useful
& buying & buying off legislation
down with the cunning politicians
who reach the pinnacle among the mandarins
& serve as executives for the warlords & financiers
down with the revolutionaries
who only want wealth & power
& to rule everybody themselves
who have no mercy on the beaten-down
they pretend to represent
& you artisans—good craftsmanship is great
but it’s not enough
& you with reputations, so fucking what?
save yourself, cultivate your talents
develop your capacities
say & do what others
who aren’t trying to control everyone else
can truly make use of
I’m one of those in need of what you’ll do.

A POEM BY LI PO RECENTLY DISCOVERED IN A BOX CONTAINING A CHILD’S TOY THAT WON’T STOP REPEATING AN INFERNAL NOISE & translated by Eric Chaet

4 Comments

  1. One of the things I’ve always liked about Li Po is his timelessness. Everything in this poem, could have been written yesterday, if he lived now. He has been my hero, my muse, and my favorite drinking companion. Thanks for unearthing this, surely the earliest rant on record.

  2. I like this poem, and especially love its title. But I disagree about timelessness: This poem has a strong rhetorical, exhortative voice (& the use of “&”) that make me feel strongly, without looking it up, that it was written some time between 1968 and 1973.

  3. Barbara Fitz Vroman

    January 21, 2010 at 6:09 am

    I think Eric wrote it. Most Chinese poets were enlightened, not bitter.

  4. It’s one thing to be bitter, another to work against oppression. Many work against oppression by violence—some of us by manifesting intellectual effort.

    Otherwise, aren’t art & literature merely entertainment, like a football game or a popular song about being infatuated—or vanity, showing off?

    If you don’t work against oppression & madness with intellectual effort, oppression & madness will waste you—you probably notice that you’re being wasted—or force you to resort to violence, merely to survive, eventually.

    In Li Po’s time, something like one-third of the Chinese died in the revolution against the T’ang dynasty. Our time is unstable & there is already a lot of violence, you may have noticed. Remember when the threat of great violence was attributed to the threat from the Soviet Union?

    Things have changed—yet the threat of great violence persists. It persists within what we are part of. Whatever threat of great violence from outside of what we’re part of, is actually within what we’re part of.

    Voltaire, the pre-eminent European Enlightenment figure, ended his many letters, which were intellectual weapons, “Down with the Infamy.” A useful tactic, it seems to me. He also ridiculed the pretensions of the powerful, & everyone’s delusions, relentlessly.

    But maybe my critic is referring to Buddhist-type Enlightenment—which the unenlightened, it seems to me, interpret as license to be passive in the face of oppression.

    That may be a misunderstanding on their part, or Gautama Buddha’s, or both—or a rationalization for cowardice. I sympathize. I’m timid by nature. I’m a mammal, too. I’m often afraid of the consequences of speaking out. For instance, I hate to be thought one of the group that includes so many who speak out unwisely, & egotistically—truly unenlightened beings.

    And I’m afraid of being singled out for retribution. And I’m afraid of continually being paid in reflex-action criticism, rather than dollars now & then, if only I’d behave more “sensibly.”

    All that keeps me speaking out, is that I’m even more afraid of silently being wasted by oppression & madness—& consideration for others similarly being wasted, & those to come.

    Oppression can come from those who rule you from above, & from those who would rule you, horizontally—your colleagues, cohorts, neighbors, fellow citizens, those who call you names when, after carefully considering whether to speak out, & how, you dare to speak out—or dismiss you as one of the unenlightened egotists to whom you bear a superficial resemblance.

    It seems to me that, like it or not, the current set of oppressions—& rationalizations & other madness—will lead to more & more violence. You can figure out what it might be useful to say & do before saying & doing anything hardly matters any more, & do it—or not.

    If I were oppressed, & gave up on doing anything about it, I’d certainly be bitter!

    Down with the current set of oppressions & delusions! Down with the Infamy!

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