Saturday, March 26, 2005

Gideon's" second question, "what is your favorite very short poem?" is a particularly tough one. My favorite very short poems come from classical Chinese and Japanese literature. I like them because they capture something, a scene, a season, a feeling, a truth about the transience of life in the fewest lines possible. They have the immediacy of a joke with the depth of a telling anecdote from a wise friend. As much as I love them, my very favorite poems do more, offering a glimpse of something eternal within the fragments of created being. These are by and large are longer works, and not quite what the question asked for. I would have to say that my favorite very short poem is the one that speaks to the view in front of me at the present moment, an ever changing criterion. To demonstrate what I mean, here are the two first "very short" poems I posted on this site one April morning three years ago when I looked out on an unexpected spring snowfall. I have copied the posts for context:

Snow this morning! Only a dusting, and that disappearing quickly, but more on the mountain. Susan's car is covered, and the front porch is frosted over, snow between the boards. Here is a haiku by the Japanese poet Issa (translation by Stephen Addiss):

Stickily stickily
clinging to everything---
spring snow

This is the second month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The following by the Japanese poet Kodojin (1864-1944) seems particularly appropriate this morning:

Things Seen

Second month, and still spring chill:
only the plum blossoms open their faces.
This morning, I'll just try opening the door--
light snow falling over green mountains.

(translation by Jonathan Chaves)

There it is; a moment, a mood, captured in just a few words by poets who lived in different centuries half a world away describing perfectly the view out my front door one spring morning in the Shenandoah Valley.