Monday, March 13, 2006

"The scroll of silk"           [shi-ish]

The ink of China returns to me   occasionally or often
the aroma of the ink pervades   a history lost to time
you could count the beats   there are seven here   you could listen for the rhyme
you could feel the moonlight glisten   hear the sounds of evening soften
but it's afternoon in America   it's English now I speak
it's the twenty-first century   didn't you know?   it's a world forgetting the past
the ink of China returns to me   although maybe I'm speaking Greek?
the scroll of silk is long my friend   the sea of ink is vast

Composed 12 March, aboard train to NYC.


Blogger ~River~ said...

inksilksilkink! ooooooo! ~:D

I love the smell of ink. Glad you spoke of it.

Happy Holi!

Tue Mar 14, 07:30:00 AM PST  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

Happy holi indeed!

But River, the ink used in Chinese calligraphy -- which is used both in painting and in inscribing words -- has its own distinctive aroma, very pleasant (poss. like a perfume scent but not sweet or cloying) --

and the thing is this:

when sitting to write (as for instance, to write a poem), one would first grind the ink on the inkstone. It's like black watercolor: the ink block is very solid, and is ground by rubbing on the inkstone (with a small pool of water in the stone), until the water has turned deep black. Then one may dip in the brush and commence writing. The fact that the same ink & brush were used both for calligraphy and for painting, also helped make those two arts more allied. The writers all became painters (to some degree); and the calligraphy itself has a wonderful balance, a wonderful sense of dynamic proportion -- and in the elements of the semi-pictographic forms, are the ancient root words.

The grinding of the ink before writing a poem, is comparable to tuning the sitar strings before playing the alaap. In the first case, one smells the scent of ink. In the second case, one hears the notes getting tuned . . .

But so: it's this Chinese ink smell I had in mind in particular. Someday perhaps I will send you some from China!

This was a poem I recited at the S.&Co. salon, at the Algonquin Hotel (lobby-restaurant) on Sunday. I wrote it on the train traveling north (with a modern ink pen, not Chinese). The silk is of course the background material (a silk scroll), on which the poetry can be inscribed.

I was first introduced to Chinese calligraphy as a 4th grader (9 years old) at the little Quaker school I attended in Southern California. I had a teacher (from Texas) who has studied a bit of Chinese and the written language to us; that year, we had special focus on Chinese literature (we also heard, read aloud to us, Pearl Buck's book). I read for the first time the poems of Tao Yuan-ming and Po Chu-i, among others (in Authur Waley's translation); -- though I'm doubtful I understood them too well then.

But later, in high school, when I ran into the Chinese teacher doing some xeroxing, I said 2 or 3 words to her (wich I remembered from 4th grade). She said, "You should study Chinese!" I said, "But I'm studying Russian!" She insisted, "You must study Chinese!" So I did.

This poem has 7 beats per line, and is in stanzas of 4 lines. To that extent, it modestly hints at the 7-charcter-per-line form that is one of the 2 ubiquitous forms in classical Chinese (the other being a 5-character-per-line form). An 8-line poem is the most common classical form (though 4-line poems are also common; and longer poems are also found).


Tue Mar 14, 08:03:00 AM PST  
Anonymous fingertree said...

Liked the poem, as well as your evocative comment.

Tue Mar 14, 10:22:00 AM PST  
Blogger Ashish Gorde said...

What sets this poem apart is the quiet dignity that one can 'hear' in the poet's voice. Although there is a melancholic tone throughout the poem, nevertheless and thankfully, it doesn't descend into sentimental depths but retains a heart-felt sigh that speaks at many layers.

Mon Mar 20, 02:37:00 AM PST  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

tree & ashish,

obliged for your good thoughts.


Mon Mar 20, 06:14:00 PM PST  

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