Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

June 8, 2008

Posing Aemilia Lanyer (as Shakespeare; as his Dark Lady; and as she posed)

______

 

 

______

 

Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645), was born in London to Baptista Bassano and his possibly common-law wife Margaret Johnson. At age 23, the then Aemilia Bassano married her cousin Alphonso Lanyer, supposedly after becoming pregnant by Henry Carey, Lord Hudson. She had two children, a son Henry and a daughter Odillya, who died at 10 months of age, and “many miscarriages” as well. The reported miscarriages are are brought to bear, as she is considered a candidate to be the Dark Lady, or Dark Musical Lady, in William Shakespeare’s sonnets #127-154, and thus would have been prone to affairs, and maybe have shared one with the Bard. Note that if she had an extended affair with Shakespeare, five years her senior, or even if they enjoyed discussing poetics and culture together around the court, he would have had an influence on her, and vice versa.

Aemelia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum title pageIn 1611, at age 42, Lanyer became the first woman to publish a book of poetry in English, Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum, or “Hail, God, King of the Jews.” Within that book is the first known country house poem, “The Description of Cooke-ham“. It predates Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst“, Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax“, and Robert Herrick’s “A Panegyric to Sir Lewis Pemberton“. Here is Emma Jones discussing Lanyer’s poem in the essay Renaissance ‘country house’ poetry as social criticism:

Her country house poem The Description of Cooke-ham gives us an account of the residence of Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, in the absence of Lady Clifford, who is depicted as the ideal Renaissance woman—graceful, virtuous, honourable and beautiful. Lanyer describes the house and its surroundings while Lady Margaret is present, and while she is absent. While Lady Margaret was around, the flowers and trees:

Set forth their beauties then to welcome thee!
The very hills right humbly did descend,
When you to tread upon them did intend.
And as you set your feete, they still did rise,
Glad that they could receive so rich a prise.

Lanyer also may have been Jewish. If so, this would support the contention, being proffered by John Hudson, that she wrote the works we have always attributed to Shakespeare. The idea is that Shakespeare would not have had the requisite knowledge of Jewish lore, written into the plays, that a Jewish Bassano-Lanyer would; and that she agreed to be his ghostwriter, needing the cover of a man’s identity in order to have her work published and performed. Significantly, however, if she were no more Jewish than Shakespeare, the argument that he must not have written the plays, must apply to her as well on this score.

Here is Kari Boyd McBride‘s response to that assertion from her Biography of Aemilia Lanyer:

Lanyer’s father’s family, the Bassanos, were court musicians who had come to England from Venice at the end of Henry VIII’s reign. It has been argued that they were converted Jews (Lasocki and Prior; Rowse, “Revealed at Last,” and ensuing correspondence; Greer et al., s.v. “Aemilia Lanyer”), but Ruffatti has argued persuasively that the family was Christian.

Here is Michelle Powell-Smith discussing Lanyer’s possible Jewishness and the title of her landmark book, in Aemilia Lanyer: Redeeming Women Through Faith and Poetry:

It has been suggested that she was a converted Jew, largely on the basis of the title of her work. This, however, seems unlikely. Lanyer attributed the title of Salve Deus to a dream she’d had many years before its writing and internal clues in the poem, as well as Lanyer’s circle of acquaintances, lend far more certainty to the theory that Lanyer was actually a radical protestant. Susan Bertie, the Countess of Kent, was responsible for Lanyer’s education. Bertie had multiple connections to radical protestantism, including a close relationship with Anne Lock, who translated Calvin and Taffin into English.

Powell-Smith is there referring to the section of Lanyer’s book called “To the Doubtfull Reader“, wherein she writes:

Gentle Reader, if thou desire to be resolued, why I giue this Title, Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum, know for certaine, that it was deliuered vnto me in sleepe many yeares before I had any intent to write in this maner, and was quite out of my memory vntill I had written the Passion of Christ, when immediately it came into my remembrance, what I had dreamed long before; and thinking it a significant token, that I was appointed to performe that Worke, I gaue the very same words I receiued in sleepe as the fittest Title I could deuise for this Booke.

With this background, let’s look at John Hudson’s website, dedicated in large part to the ideas that Aemilia Lanyer is both The Dark Lady of his sonnets and the “Shakespeare” who wrote them as well: Did this black Jewish woman, Amelia Bassano (the first woman to publish a book of original poetry) write Shakespeare’s plays?. Linked from that site are the following two videos, here from YouTube:

   

Who Wrote Shakespeare?: The Dark Lady Discovery

   

Amilia Bassano Lanier as Shakespeare

   

Lanyer’s book came out five years before Shakespeare died, so we need to note, that if she used his name as a cover before this, then the book she got published under her own name, Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum, would have been written in a mature “Shakespearean” style, or at least worthy of publication by a mature ghostwriter for Shakespeare. It seems obvious to me that it isn’t. Here are two of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets:
   

______

   

by William Shakespeare
   

#127
   

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name:
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame,
For since each hand hath put on nature’s power,   
Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem,
At such who not born fair no beauty lack,
Slandering creation with a false esteem,
    Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
    That every tongue says beauty should look so.

   

   
#130
   

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,
Coral is far more red, than her lips red,
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight,
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
    And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,
    As any she belied with false compare.

   

______

   

Within Lanyer’s book is the title poem, the 1840-line “Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum” written in rime royal stanzas, ababbcc. That poem contains these significant sections: The Passion of Christ; Eue’s Apologie in Defence of Women; The Teares of the Daughters of Jerusalem; and The Salutation and Sorrow of the Virgin Marie. To begin the reading of her poetry, and to note Lanyer’s style, here is part of that last section:

   

______

   

El Greco\'s Pieta

   

(lines 1009-1056 of the poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“)

by Aemilia Lanyer

from The Salutation and Sorrow of the Virgin Marie

His woefull Mother wayting on her Sonne,
All comfortlesse in depth of sorow drowned;
Her griefes extreame, although but new begun,
To see his bleeding body oft shee swouned;
How could shee choose but thinke her selfe undone,
He dying, with whose glory shee was crowned?
        None ever lost so great a losse as shee,
        Beeing Sonne, and Father of Eternitie.

Her teares did wash away his pretious blood,
That sinners might not tread it under feet
To worship him, and that it did her good
Upon her knees, although in open street,
Knowing he was the Jessie floure and bud,
That must be gath’red when it smell’d most sweet:
        Her Sonne, her Husband, Father, Saviour, King,
        Whose death killd Death, and tooke away his sting.

Most blessed Virgin, in whose faultlesse fruit,
All Nations of the earth must needes rejoyce,
No Creature having sence though ne’r so brute,
But joyes and trembles when they heare his voyce;
His wisedome strikes the wisest persons mute,
Faire chosen vessell, happy in his choyce:
        Deere Mother of our Lord, whose reverend name,
        All people Blessed call, and spread thy fame.

For the Almightie magnified thee,
And looked downe upon thy meane estate;
Thy lowly mind, and unstain’d Chastitie,
Did pleade for Love at great Jehovaes gate,
Who sending swift-wing’d Gabriel unto thee,
His holy will and pleasure to relate;
        To thee most beauteous Queene of Woman-kind,
        The Angell did unfold his Makers mind.

He thus beganne, Haile Mary full of grace,
Thou freely art beloved of the Lord,
He is with thee, behold thy happy case;
What endlesse comfort did these words afford
To thee that saw’st an Angell in the place
Proclaime thy Virtues worth, and to record
        Thee blessed among women: that thy praise
        Should last so many worlds beyond thy daies.

Loe, this high message to thy troubled spirit,
He doth deliver in the plainest sence;
Sayes, Thou shouldst beare a Sonne that shal inherit
His Father Davids throne, free from offence,
Call’s him that Holy thing, by whose pure merit
We must be sav’d, tels what he is, of whence;
        His worth, his greatnesse, what his name must be,
        Who should be call’d the Sonne of the most High.

   

______

   

To contrast the writing style of Shakespeare with Lanyer’s, notice her usage of the verb did to emphasize the principal verb to follow, as in “did wash away” and “did pleade for love” (above), instead of “washed away” and “pleaded for love” or “pled for love”. One reason for her to do this would be to keep the iambic meter. Another might be her bilingual Mediterranean ear for language making it sound okay. In the entirety of the 1840-line poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“, she uses the word did 126 times; or 6.6% of her lines contain the word did. But, she is inconsistent, as the first occurrences are in lines 216-217:

Did worke Octaviaes wrongs, and his neglects.
What fruit did yeeld that faire forbidden tree,

So, subtracting out the first 215 lines, we have 1,625 lines beginning where her writing changed; and a recalculation shows that did is used in 7.8% of those lines, every 13 lines of iambic pentameter on average. Either way, rounding off, this is 6 times Shakespeare’s usage of the word in his sonnets. In his 154 sonnets, there are 2,156 lines, and only 26 occurrences of did, 1.2% of the lines, or once every 83 lines on average. Thus Lanyer and Shakespeare are poets with different poetic ears for whatever reason.

On the idea that Lanyer is Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, here is Peter Bassano, who is descended from her uncle Anthony, discussing this possibility in his article Emilia Bassano: Shakespeare’s Mistress?:

Despite an enormous age difference Emilia became Hunsdon’s mistress until 1592 when she became pregnant, she was hurriedly married off to poor old Alphonso Lanier. The son she bore was baptised Henry after his father and grand-father. Henry Lanier also became a musician joining the Kings Musick in 1629. It would take a constitutional historian to work out the hierarchy of this hapless young man’s claim to the English throne.

Here are Shakespeare’s own words on his adulterous lover, she is identified as dark in the extreme in Sonnet 127:

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:

The bastard shame according with Emilia’s unfortunate position in the days of life before birth control!

Let’s look at another of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets, and note that if Bassano is correct, his very great aunt Aemilia, posing as William Shakespeare, would have been writing about herself:

   

______

   

#144
   

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still,
The better angel is a man right fair:
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.
To win me soon to hell my female evil,
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil:
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell,
But being both from me both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell.
    Yet this shall I ne’er know but live in doubt,   
    Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

   

______

   

Let’s suppose that Lanyer wrote sonnet 144 instead of Shakespeare. This would mean that instead of a reading of how Eros leads us to both comfort and despair–sometimes into the arms of an evil woman, sometimes into a dilemma-filled love triangle–we would have The Dark Musical Lady herself speaking about the social predicament of women in early 17th-century England. The line, “The worser spirit a woman coloured ill,” would refer to the idea that woman are put down, colored in a derogatory manner, that they have “foul pride.” Her male side could be that she is writing under cover of the respected Will Shakespeare: “The better angel is a man right fair”. But would roles reverse, could “my angel be turned fiend”? She cannot know this until the dark woman comes out from under the mask of the fair man, “Till my bad angel fire my good one out.”

I cannot rectify the writing styles, however, and so cannot jump on the bandwagon to announce, as Dr A.L. Rowse did to Peter Bassano, “it is she!” But I can include below her famous “Eves Apologie” that turns the tables of the “female evil” on the “man right fair” in Eden, the paradise from which, I will point out, they were both expelled or “fired out” of as a couple. We will then finish with Lanyer’s short essay To the Virtuous Reader, which is also in her book, and another section of the title poem in Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum titled “The Teares of the Daughter of Jerusalem.”

Margaret Preston\'s Adam and Eve in the Garden of EdenBut first, how do we pose Aemilia Lanyer as we suppose from our perspectives? We pose her as a radical protestant, writing her fine religious poetry, and yet much of the information we have about her comes from “the astrologer Simon Forman whom Lanyer consulted about her husband’s prospects for promotion.” Apparently she consulted an astrologer. We pose her promiscuously, as at least rubbing elbows with William Shakespeare, with some imagined outside chance that she was his Dark Musical Lady; as having many miscarriages, and marrying one man after becoming pregnant by another, and yet: “Forman [himself] tried, unsuccessfully, to seduce Lanyer.” We pose her with gossip.

The way she posed herself can be seen in the positions she took within her remarkable accomplishments, that she published the first book by a woman, and in doing so circulated a book with the specific intent of showing that women are due considerable respect. She posed herself with gospel. She interpreted the same scripture being used by society to keep women down, and made her case that quite the opposite ought truthfully be done.

Her other significant literary first is her country house poem, “The Description of Cooke-ham“, written in tribute to Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland. Above we quote the five lines Emma Jones cited in her essay Renaissance ‘country house’ poetry as social criticism. Jones then goes on to say:

A far more rational explanation would be that Lady Margaret resided at Cooke-ham during the summer months, and just after she left, autumn came upon the countryside. In order to flatter Lady Margaret, Lanyer implies that the countryside is mourning her departure, but in actual fact she sees the turn of the season, which is not affected by Lady Margaret. Just as in To Penshurst the lifestyle seemed too good to be true, in A Description of Cook-ham, the Lady of the house seems to be too close to perfection to be real. Perhaps Lanyer’s poem is a satirical take on the relationship between the poet and the patron.

Here are the eight lines that follow the five Emma Jones used:

The gentle Windes did take delight to bee
Among those woods that were so grac’d by thee.
And in sad murmure vtterd pleasing sound,
That Pleasure in that place might more abound:
The swelling Bankes deliuer’d all their pride,
When such a Phoenix once they had espide.
Each Arbor, Banke, each Seate, each stately Tree,
Thought themselues honor’d in supporting thee.

She is not flattering the Countess of Cumberland. She is giving all due respect to another woman, the considerable respect that a women is Biblically due, what Jesus gave, as she says: “All which is sufficient to inforce all good Christians and honourable minded men to speake reuerently of our sexe, and especially of all virtuous and good women.”
   

–Clattery MacHinery

   

______

   

Paul Gustave Doré\'s Adam and Eve Expelled

   

(lines 761-832 of the poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“)
   

by Aemilia Lanyer
   

from Eue’s Apologie in Defence of Women
   

Till now your indiscretion sets us free,
And makes our former fault much lesse appeare;
Our Mother Eve, who tasted of the Tree,
Giving to Adam what shee held most deare,
Was simply good, and had no powre to see,
The after-comming harme did not appeare:
        The subtile Serpent that our Sex betraide,
        Before our fall so sure a plot had laide.

That undiscerning Ignorance perceav’d
No guile, or craft that was by him intended;
For had she knowne, of what we were bereav’d,
To his request she had not condiscended.
But she (poore soule) by cunning was deceav’d,
No hurt therein her harmelesse Heart intended:
        For she alleadg’d Gods word, which he denies,
        That they should die, but even as Gods, be wise.

But surely Adam can not be excusde,
Her fault though great, yet hee was most too blame;
What Weaknesse offerd, Strength might have refusde,
Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
Although the Serpents craft had her abusde,
Gods holy word ought all his actions frame,
        For he was Lord and King of all the earth,
        Before poore Eve had either life or breath.

Who being fram’d by Gods eternall hand,
The perfect’st man that ever breath’d on earth;
And from Gods mouth receiv’d that strait command,
The breach whereof he knew was present death:
Yea having powre to rule both Sea and Land,
Yet with one Apple wonne to loose that breath
        Which God had breathed in his beauteous face,
        Bringing us all in danger and disgrace.

And then to lay the fault on Patience backe,
That we (poore women) must endure it all;
We know right well he did discretion lacke,
Beeing not perswaded thereunto at all;
If Eve did erre, it was for knowledge sake,
The fruit beeing faire perswaded him to fall:
        No subtill Serpents falshood did betray him,
        If he would eate it, who had powre to stay him?

Not Eve, whose fault was onely too much love,
Which made her give this present to her Deare,
That what shee tasted, he likewise might prove,
Whereby his knowledge might become more cleare;
He never sought her weakenesse to reprove,
With those sharpe words, which he of God did heare:
        Yet Men will boast of Knowledge, which he tooke
        From Eves faire hand, as from a learned Booke.

If any Evill did in her remaine,
Beeing made of him, he was the ground of all;
If one of many Worlds could lay a staine
Upon our Sexe, and worke so great a fall
To wretched Man, by Satans subtill traine;
What will so fowle a fault amongst you all?
        Her weakenesse did the Serpents words obay;
        But you in malice Gods deare Sonne betray.

Whom, if unjustly you condemne to die,
Her sinne was small, to what you doe commit;
All mortall sinnes that doe for vengeance crie,
Are not to be compared unto it:
If many worlds would altogether trie,
By all their sinnes the wrath of God to get;
        This sinne of yours, surmounts them all as farre
        As doth the Sunne, another little starre.   

Then let us have our Libertie againe,
And challendge to your selves no Sov’raigntie;
You came not in the world without our paine,
Make that a barre against your crueltie;
Your fault beeing greater, why should you disdaine
Our beeing your equals, free from tyranny?
        If one weake woman simply did offend,
        This sinne of yours, hath no excuse, nor end.

   

______

   

from the book Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum
   

by Aemilia Lanyer
   

To the Vertvovs Reader
   

Often haue I heard that it is the property of some women, not only to emulate the virtues and perfections of the rest, but also by all their powers of ill speaking, to ecclipse the brightness of their deserved fame: now contrary to this custome, which men I hope uniustly lay to their charge, I haue written this small volume, or little booke, for the generall vse of all virtuous Ladies and Gentlewomen of this kingdome; and in commendation of some particular persons of our owne sexe, such as for the most part, are so well knowne to my selfe, and others, that I dare undertake Fame dares not to call any better. And this haue I done, to make knowne to the world, that all women deserue not to be blamed though some forgetting they are women themselues, and in danger to be condemned by the words of their owne mouthes, fall into so great an errour, as to speake vnaduisedly against the rest of their sexe; which if it be true, I am persuaded they can shew their owne imperfection in nothing more: and therefore could wish (for their owne ease, modesties, and credit) they would referre such points of folly, to be practised by euell disposed men, who forgetting they were borne of women, nourished of women, and that if it were not by the means of women, they would be quite extinguished out of the world: and a finall ende of them all, doe like Vipers deface the wombes wherein they were bred, onely to giue way and vtterance to their want of discretion and goodnesse. Such as these, were they that dishonoured Christ his Apostles and Prophets, putting them to shamefull deaths. Therefore, we are not to regard any imputations that they vndeseruedly lay upon us, no otherwise than to make vse of them to our owne benefits, as spurres to vertue, making vs flie all occasions that may colour their uniust speeches to passe currant. Especially considering that they haue tempted euen the patience of God himselfe, who gaue power to wise and virtuous women, to bring downe their pride and arrogancie. As was cruell Cesarus by the discreet counsell of noble Deborah, Iudge and Prophetesse of Israel: and resolution of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite: wicket Haman, by the diuine prayers and prudent proceedings of beautiful Hester: blasphemous Holofernes, by the inuincible courage, rare wisdome, and confident carriage of Iudeth: & the vniust Iudges, by the innocency of chast Susanna: with infinite others, which for breuitie sake I will omit. As also in respect it pleased our Lord and Sauiour Iesus Christ, without the assistance of man, beeing free from originall and all other sinnes, from the time of his conception, till the houre of his death, to be begotten of a woman, borne of a woman, nourished of a woman, obedient to a woman; and that he healed woman, pardoned women, comforted women: yea, euen when he was in his greatest agonie and bloodie sweat, going to be crucified, and also in the last houre of his death, tooke care to dispose of a woman: after his resurrection, appeared first to a woman, sent a woman to declare his most glorious resurrection to the rest of his Disciples. Many other examples I could alledge of diuers faithfull and virtuous women, who haue in all ages, not onely beene Confessors, but also indured most cruel martyrdome for their faith in Iesus Christ. All which is sufficient to inforce all good Christians and honourable minded men to speake reuerently of our sexe, and especially of all virtuous and good women. To the modest sensures of both which, I refer these my imperfect indeauours, knowing that according to their owne excellent dispositions, they will rather, cherish, nourish, and increase the least sparke of virtue where they find it, by their fauourable and beste interpretations, than quench it by wrong constructions. To whom I wish all increase of virtue, and desire their best opinions.

   

______

   

Peter Paul Rubens\' Christ and Mary Magdeline

   

(lines 969-1008 of the poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“)
   

by Aemilia Lanyer
   

The Teares of the Daughter of Jerusalem
   

Thrice happy women that obtaind such grace
From him whose worth the world could not containe;
Immediately to turne about his face,
As not remembring his great griefe and paine,
To comfort you, whose teares powr’d forth apace
On Flora’s bankes, like shewers of Aprils raine:
        Your cries inforced mercie, grace, and love
        From him, whom greatest Princes could not moove:

To speake on word, nor once to lift his eyes
Unto proud Pilate, no nor Herod, king;
By all the Questions that they could devise,
Could make him answere to no manner of thing;
Yet these poore women, by their pitious cries
Did moove their Lord, their Lover, and their King,
        To take compassion, turne about, and speake
        To them whose hearts were ready now to breake.

Most blessed daughters of Jerusalem,
Who found such favour in your Saviors sight,
To turne his face when you did pitie him;
Your tearefull eyes, beheld his eies more bright;
Your Faith and Love unto such grace did clime,
To have reflection from this Heav’nly Light:
        Your Eagles eyes did gaze against this Sunne,
        Your hearts did thinke, he dead, the world were done.
   
When spightfull men with torments did oppresse
Th’afflicted body of this innocent Dove,
Poore women seeing how much they did transgresse,
By teares, by sighes, by cries intreat, nay prove,
What may be done among the thickest presse,
They labour still these tyrants hearts to move;
        In pitie and compassion to forbeare
        Their whipping, spurning, tearing of his haire.

But all in vaine, their malice hath no end,
Their hearts more hard than flint, or marble stone;
Now to his griefe, his greatnesse they attend,
When he (God knowes) had rather be alone;
They are his guard, yet seeke all meanes to offend:
Well may he grieve, well may he sigh and groane,
        Under the burthen of a heavy crosse,
        He faintly goes to make their gaine his losse.

   

______

 

______

 

March 10, 2008

Life and Death from Beijing: a Poetry Sequence by Luisetta Mudie and Dreamer Fei

~~~~~
 

execution-by-yues-minjun.jpg
 

Editor’s note:

The title of this post derives from one of the most important memoirs of the last century, Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng, which came out in 1987.   She recounts in that book her imprisonment by the Red Guard during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Politically speaking, her work represents what many of us would know about China during that time period.

Shortly after that book’s publication, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 took place in Beijing, in which upwards of 3,000 protesters, were killed or injured on orders from the Chinese goverment.   These protesters, many of them students, were by and large calling for democracy.

Here we are, approximately two decades later again, and it is the year of the Beijing Olympic Games.   Before the world supports, boycotts, or protests these games, or decides which grounds they will do this on; as events surrounding these issues surface through the media, we in the West may want to take a look at the heart of China, via the heart of one Chinese man, a poet.   Media can blind us to a fact we well know, that a big part of China’s heart is in poetry, and we need this information.

Everything written below here is either written or translated by Luisetta Mudie, who begins with a letter to you, her reader.

–Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

 

 

 

~~~~~
 

 

luisetta-mudie.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Reader,

A journalist friend of mine who is also a poet recently went back to China after 18 years in the US.   He was on the Square the night of the Tiananmen massacre.   Below are some prose reflections on his trip, but also some poems of his and mine relating to Tiananmen, to China, and about his son, who holds his sense of the future.

the-goddess-of-democracy-in-tiananmen-square.jpgThe prose and the poems were written by him in Chinese and rendered by me in English.   There may be other poems written by me at the same time, or in answer to his poems, as we had an ongoing poetic dialogue.   Chronologically, the poem sequence came before the prose, and is the culmination of a three-year dialogue between us, in which the poet is trying to move beyond both the concrete horrors of his student past, and, crucially, the numinous might-have-beens which haunt his generation.

It took those of his generation far longer to give up their longing for the idealized figures common to passionate young souls than it did for most of us, because those figures were made godlike and ultimately untouchable by the massacre that followed their emergence on the Square.   This passion that should have carried them into human life was forced instead into a twilight world of denial and strange attraction by the deaths that night in Beijing, and the government’s largely successful attempts to rewrite history.

But if we have the inclination, a poetic bent towards shade as well as light, those too-good angelic figures will show their true nature, which is also daimonic, and lead us into realms proper to poetry.

He would rather use his pen-name, Dreamer Fei, to avoid being identified.

Warmly,

Luisetta Mudie
Radio Free Asia
RFA Unplugged
 

 

~~~~~
 

 
boydragonpapercut.jpg
 

~~~~~
 

by Dreamer Fei
 

The Road Home
 

The giant Boeing 747 whistles through the thick dark cloud and white smog above the city, and touches down in a drastic way, reminding me that I am home again, after 18 hours of flight and 18 years of nostalgia.

It is about an hour’s drive from the airport to my parents’ apartment.   My cousin wanted to pick me up at the airport and show off his new Toyota Camry, but I declined.   I want to relax on the long journey home to adjust to the reverse culture shock of re-entry.   I have been warned about it by many overseas Chinese.   I get a cab; it costs 10 bucks.   I doze off as it snakes through the city traffic.

I was born and grew up in China.   Even after 18 years in America, I still eat Chinese food at least once a day.   Reading Chinese books is one of my favorite pastimes.   China is remote for me, yet it has continued to haunt my dreams.

tiananmen-square-1989-379x278.jpgI was a college student in 1989 and an eyewitness to the shootings and killings that night along Changan Avenue.   I was almost shot when I tried to persuade the soldiers not to fire on us.   I fled the country shortly after the tragedy.   But the tear gas, tanks, and crushed bodies permeated my dreams.   In one scene, I try to hold a fellow student crushed by a tank, and realize his two legs are gone, with only blood gushing from his body.   Such scenes are rewound and played again, night after night.   No time for healing after such an event.

It has been 18 years since I set foot in my hometown.   The cab brakes a bit and I wake up.   We are on the freeway.   Surprisingly, it has 12 lanes and is as good as any interstate in the U.S., if not better.   It is even more surprising that, along the freeway, you can see signs for W-Mart, Cosco, McDonalds, KFC, and Domino’s Pizza as well as Starbucks Coffee and IKEA, not to mention a Mobil gas station every 10 miles.

Am I in China? Did I take the right flight? In the days that follow, there are even more surprises in store.
 

Day one:   Environment Day

The drum beats.   Firecrackers plus the loudspeakers are deafening.   In the unsettled dust and smoke caused by the fireworks, hundreds of retired women dance cheerfully.   The government is holding Environment Day celebrations in a local park.   Government officials take turns giving the usual long speeches, talking about how environment protection is vitally important.   Everyone is a bit bored until, at the end of the ceremony, environmental officials and local primary school students release several hundred doves into the air, in a “back to the wild” gesture.

These doves fly high in the foggy sky for about 10 minutes before landing next to a huge pigeon coop to get their food on a cart in a corner of the same park.   The cart is owned by a farmer who makes a living by hiring out his doves for exactly this sort of stunt around the area.

It would be unfair to say that local governments don’t take environmental issues seriously.   In some areas, protecting the environment is more than a public show or a ceremony, because officials could lose their jobs if an environmental disaster happens.   A big chemical group in my hometown, funded by the government, planned to spend three billion yuan (around US$40 million) to tackle air pollution problems by reducing chemical waste and planting trees.   The river in my hometown—a mid-size city—used to be dirty and filled with industrial waste and dead animals.   In my memory, the color of the river was the same black as Chinese calligrapher’s ink.

But now, the river glitters on a sunny day (not that you get very many of them) and there are many weeping willows along the banks.   Several public parks have been built along the river as well; you can even see water lilies in one while standing under the traditional Chinese pavilions.   Along the newly built main avenue in the south side of the city, there are lawns with green grass, where huge plastic elephants and giraffes stand.

The locals say these projects are all done for the sake of face and to show off to top officials and tourists.   But hey, trees and grass are good, a glittering river is better than a dark one, and the “face” of the city really looks better than before.
 

Day Two:   Where is my old neighborhood?

One of the things that surprises me the most, is that I get lost when trying to find my own home, even though my folks still live in the same neighborhood I grew up in.   Now, most of the shabby old shacks that the poorer residents used to live in have been demolished, and the area is filled with high-rise buildings and commercial complexes.   Many of my old neighbors live in two-, three- or even four-bedroomed apartments with hardwood floors and all the modern utilities like refrigerators and washing machines.   These were luxuries for most Chinese 20 years ago.

“Life is good!” my old classmate tells me.   He now works at a law firm and bought a big condo two years ago.   He couldn’t afford the half a million yuan (U.S.$60,000) condo on his own, but his parents and his wife’s parents helped with the downpayment.   “Property prices are skyrocketing now.   If we hadn’t bought it, pretty soon we wouldn’t have been able to afford it at all.   And without that condo, my wife wouldn’t marry me,” he jokes.   I can feel his confidence about his future, though; he makes around 5,000 RMB (US$600) per month now.   “The monthly mortgage payment will remain the same, but our income will grow steadily,” he says.

But not everyone is as lucky and confident as my old classmate.   One day, as I am buying a pot of tall bamboos for my father in a farmer’s market, the old saleswoman asks me why I am buying it.   I tell her that my parents have moved into a new apartment and need some plants there.   She says she envies them.   She tells me that she used to have an old-style house in the downtown area where everybody knew everybody.   Now she has moved to the outskirts of the city.   “I miss the old neighborhood.   Sometimes I go back to see the old neighbors who live in the high-rise buildings and chat with them.”   Tears start from her eyes.   I ask why she doesn’t return.   She says the compensation she received when her old home was demolished for development wasn’t enough to afford a place there.   I don’t know what to say to her.

This city used to have many state-owned enterprises (SOEs), but since the early 90s, most SOEs have gone bankrupt, and thousands of workers have lost their jobs, many forced into early retirement.   The city is clearly divided into haves and have-nots, and in recent years, the gap between them has widened.   When you go to a luxury store, you can see Burberry shirts and golf clubs at prices higher than in London or New York.   Mercedes and BMWs prowl the streets, but in the farmer’s market, customers are haggling over a penny.   There are restaurants where you can spend US$100 per person for a seafood buffet, but you can also have a feast for only US$1 in a roadside vendor’s stand.
 

Day three:   Is social harmony possible?

In front of the gates of the city government, hundreds of tricycle taxis stage a quiet demonstration; they have signs on their tricycles saying “Legalize the tricycle!” “we want to survive!” “We want to pay taxes!”.   Since the systemic reforms and privatisation of the SOEs, strikes and demonstrations like this have been happening quite often in this city.   Some unemployed workers have managed to get some compensation due to the attention paid to the strikes and demonstrations, but it is barely enough to get them by, meaning they won’t be starving, but not enough to support their family, or pay for their kids to go to school, or for medical expenses like the occasional hospital visit.   Thus, some of the unemployed workers have made new jobs for themselves by using tricycles to taxi people around the city.   This has found favor with other people on a low income, especially the elderly, because they are cheaper than the bus and more convenient.   But now the cab drivers have had their noses put out of joint, and have complained to the police.   Others complain that the city’s 3,000 tricyle rickshaws are blocking traffic in the downtown area.   The police are always fining them, but they carry on with their business afterwards.

“They shouldn’t be legalized.   Shame on the city for letting them loose!” said the driver of one cab I rode in.

“We should be legalized.   We need to eat! It is better than stealing!” a tricycle-man told me while I took a ride with him.

I found out later that this saga has already dragged on for more than a year.   “The city government has a dilemma,” an old classmate who works for the municipality told me.   “If we legalize the tricycles, then more tricyclers will come out to make money, and we will get more complaints from taxi drivers, and traffic will be worse; but at the same time, we are under pressure to find those unemployed workers jobs.   If we ban all the tricycles, they will come to us for jobs.   Now what we do, we keep our eyes half open on this issue, which means we do nothing at this point, we only contain the amount of tricycles.”

One sunny afternoon, I take a walk into a riverside park.   I see the big rally going on.   Hundreds of old men and women all wearing Mao suits are listening to an old man’s speech.   He says:   “Our representatives went to Beijing to petition and they handed over the paperwork.   Now they are back; let us welcome them!” People burst into applause, welcoming the petitioners home as heroes.   Later I found out that the man giving the speech was a former Party secretary at a big factory who led the workers and cadres to complain about corruption on the part of the factory manager and asked for more compensation.   It seems to me that they are able to take a swipe at social injustice, including Communist Party officials without fear.

This is a surprise for me.   As a young student, I always admired Hyde Park in London where people can voice whatever opinions they want, and here they are having a public rally on such a sensitive issue; in China!   Even though the mass media are tightly controlled, people really do have some personal freedom now.   They can talk about politics and even say “President Hu Jintao sucks” in a restaurant, teahouse or even in the office.   Nobody holds you responsible or reports you to the police for that, because people just don’t care much about politics any more.
 

Day four:   The way back

My cousin insists on driving me to airport.   He says:   “You are impressed by too many good things.   I will show you something on the way back.”   We take a detour instead of the highway.

The road is dusty and bumpy, and the buildings and factories are the old ones I recognize from 20 years ago.   They are exactly the same, which is a shock.   I just can’t piece the two pictures together.

Now I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of China.   I don’t know where it is heading.   China is changing drastically, and it’s impossible to say whether for the better or the worse.
 

 

~~~~~
 

 
chinesewritingzhonggong.jpg
 

~~~~~
 

 

Poem Sequence

 

 

June 4, 2006

by Dreamer Fei
 

Tomorrow we will rise like the sun
 

Your images have floated outside my window
in I don’t know how many dreams,
suspended in endless youth.

Hand in hand, you stand, staring.
I push open the window, call softly:
Are you hungry? Cold?
Eyes look back like dark tunnels,
unknowing. The mouths make no sound.

They follow me, these eyes,

as shade follows shadow—
without name.
 

I know I should find your graves;

pay my respects to your families.
My son bounces along beside me,

fists full of yellow flowers—

but I don’t know where to find them.

You seem to ask how I could have fallen so,
from the night we drank, smoked, and sang the same song,

hand-in-hand on the Square.
 

It is the years that have fallen, I reply,
garlanded in mourning flowers, now rotting.

Wait for me, I say, follow me!
We’ll go see the world
or maybe our families will intermarry.

You kept me company for years

until one day on the June grass
you sat down and said:
Tomorrow we will rise like the sun
and scatter warmth on the green earth.

Don’t forget to bring your child.

Bring the future

and we’ll set off together
on the long road home.
 

 

~~~~~

 

June 4, 2004

by Luisetta Mudie

for the survivors of Tiananmen Square
 

The Price of the Asking
 

First love: the quavering call
to the cosmos,
the soul in ashes shudders in desire,
yet still imprisoned
by grammar.

Fresh loves succeed, first love gone by.
It’s you, of course, and you too—
love as the answer!

Fresh loves mature, no longer enough.
We ask again, work, drink, smoke,
take the veils of flesh, or words.

And all the time the forgotten soul
is waiting, knowing that the first love
is always, always
a question

for which the price of the asking
is life’s deepest response,

the price of the answer
the soul’s great work,

the price of the loving
a self given up to the whole story.
 

 

fandian.jpg
 

~~~~~

 

February 13, 2005

by Dreamer Fei

to Christopher, at one year old
 

Midnight Sun
 

Nestled in the crook of my arm, you sleep,
Fingers hooked around my shirt-button.
I carry you like a stringed instrument,
whose milky chords permeate the night.

Since you were born, I have held
The light of your arriving cry that night
When your first ray of life broke through
Big snows and winter dark, guiding

My soul-ship in its wandering ways,
A song thrummed from a well-earthed string.
So many days and nights lie before you,
My son! Ready to ensnare your heart

As you grow through wind and storm,
A far cry from tonight’s soft moonlight. Here,
Now, I am mindful of your spring fragility:
That I will be gone before you fully bloom.

What dream will sustain you, or what path
Your feet will take, I cannot know.
Soon, all that time will be as tonight, when I
Stand at the doorway, watch you on the way

to your heart’s home.
 

 

~~~~~

 

July 2004

by Luisetta Mudie
 

I have followed you
 

delawarebeach.jpgTo a small island near the courtyards
of the Huangpu Military Academy
where the river sleeps its long siesta

Mud-sluggish down past Tiger’s Gate,
bathing the estuary in oblivion—memories
of shame and gunfire are left for humans

To where a northern township lies
battered in a sea of bitter dust, the earth
and its people tortured by history

Along the sand of a Delaware beach,
voice crackling across microwaves—the cry
of lonely ghosts swept away by the wind

Out on the dark wings of memory to a night
that changed the world’s dream forever,
leaving us to pick up lost echoes of love

With the hot closeness of words in the throat,
words fought for, bought and paid for, picked
up by the roadside and between train carriages

Into poems as unanswerable as the weather
at the rain-soaked borders of sea-country,
poems that promise the storm but can never hold it

And there I saw you first, still see you, happy
on a boat in yellow, fish held high in the sea-sway,
your brave and careful eyes asking one question. When?
 

 

~~~~~

 

2005

by Dreamer Fei
 

How I wish
 

I could rock you to sleep
like carrying a baby, telling stories
under unknown stars

I could guide and protect you
wipe away tears
bring back a smile

Or one Saturday at the piano
I could just hear you
then read you my poems
with the sun streaming through the window

We could stand, hands idly linking
in the front garden, watching the children
Or later, in the back, watch the sun sleep
and the night fall, and come gently to each
other in the flesh

We could explore the whole world then
sail the impossible blue

Later still, when the deadline is near,
we could say together in fragile voices
that we are not sure if there’s a paradise ahead of us
but didn’t we just live one on earth?

Strangely, it’s already enough, my love
with the present to share and a future out there
We have the dream fulfilled and beyond the dream’s scope
poetry, imagination and a growing passion

Now I know that a bittersweet teardrop
can serve to moisten a dry old heart

Dissolve me; make a better man
 

 

~~~~~

 

tiananmen-square-2004-640x215.jpg
 

~~~~~

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.