Jueju: The Last Rose

Here’s the final form of the Lushi that I wrote for the Rose competition at Tournament of Foxes last year. I won’t go into a great deal of explication, as I’m currently mid-read on a book that was a serendipitous bookstore find, The Art of Chinese Poetry, that will be informing some¬†modification on my attempts at a method of writing “faithful” (insofar as one can in a non-tonal language) original jueju/lushi in English. It corrects a couple important fallacies in the scholarship I was drawing on, though does confirm a lot of other points as well, so I won’t have to scrap everything, just rework it a bit.

The Last Roses

For the last time, I meet you in the rose garden.

Though seasons pass, quickly for all men,

To next spring, is a journey of ten thousand li,*

For these roses, will not bloom again

Anyways, on to the poem itself. I’m actually pretty pleased with this poem, as I was able to adhere to the strict formal rules while at the same times creating the thought/mood/affect that I wanted. The theme was roses, so of course I set the scene in a rose garden, used a traditional rhyme scheme of AABA, and followed the rules I’d laid out in an earlier post to build a five character (character meaning “major concept word” in this sense) line. I also followed the two character/ceasura/three character format, which looks a bit odd to my no doubt Western eyes, but reads nicely. Chinese formal poems like this tend to be square on the page, where the trend for English poems is to flow downwards. Hence:

The Last Roses

For the last time,

I meet you in the rose garden.

Though seasons pass,

quickly for all men,

To next spring,

is a journey of ten thousand li,

For these roses,

will not bloom again

^ has a more “appealing” layout that looks entirely different, and radically altered page flow, but reads exactly the same aloud. It conveys a mood that is more fluid and less formal. The above layout is (to me at least) reminiscent of how Pound poems look on the page, in that respect.

*a li is a unit of measurement that at various points in history has ranged from 1/3 km to 1/2 km. The unit “ten thousand” is often colloquially used in Chinese to indicate a number too large for measurement. Therefore, used in this sense, the phrase “ten thousand li” refers to an impassable or impossible distance. For example, a folk tale may state that a hero travels ten thousand li to reach a mythical land.

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Poem: Rhyme Royal vs Bastard Quatrain

I originally wrote this poem in a form I’m calling a bastard quatrain; it would be long measure if I had an ear for meter, but my meter is pretty irregular, so probably the best way to describe the form is the bastard love child of long measure and redondilla (though I can’t find hard and fast confirmation as to whether the redondilla is actually meter-less or rather, made of trochees [In the extensive, rigorous ten minutes of Googling I did]). There was a poetry contest at the last Dreamstone, which had a Chaucerian theme, so they were looking for poems written in Rhyme royal, which is a 7 line stanza iambic pentameter form. I waited until the 11th hour to do a poem for it, so figured the easiest thing to do would be to adapt this poem. I ended up regretting the choice, as I much preferred the original form. I felt forcing the poem into a shape it didn’t “want” to be made the language stilted at times and the flow more awkward. I’m rather odd and superstitious about form, though. I feel like every poem has a shape it “wants” to be, and if you allow the poem to flow into that shape, you get a better poem out of it. In addition, rhyme royal is a form better suited to ornamentation, and I prefer simplicity in my work as a general rule.

Rhyme Royal Version:

The Reluctant Husband

With a heavy heart this morning of May,

I make my slow way to the chapel door,

For this morn is my wedding day,

And I shall tarry with my love no more,

For I walk towards a bride I abhor.

The ring silver seems a jailor’s hard chain.

There is nothing sweet in this parting’s pain.

It is the sweet Catrin that I do love,

Her kindly smile, her skillful lute playing,

Her voice as soft as the coo of the dove,

Not foul Roslyn with her donkey braying.

To buy her silence would be worth the paying.

It is hard fate for a man yet young to bear,

When he has known truly a love so fair.

The fair Catrin has skin as soft as morning dew,

A waist as slim as a lily’s thin stem.

Of sores and spots Roslyn has not few.

Her breath is as rank as the fetid fen.

Upon her brow there sits a ponderous wen.

Catrin’s head has fine gold and silver hair.

Ruth Ann’s dirty brambles cannot compare.

Catrin’s step knows a sweet and gentle grace,

While foul Roslyn naps through the dance,

Blue flies and gnats lighting upon her face.

I guess I could ask Roslyn to prance.

I would prefer to fall upon a lance.

Instead I ask of God to deliver,

A swift quick death or a stronger liver.

Fairest Catrin’s wit is most keen and true

She has no match within a scholar’s duel

If you ask foul Roslyn for two and two

She’ll think you a tormentor rather cruel

I could believe she swapped her brains for gruel

I could believe she had plenty to start

Since she’s eaten enough to fill a cart

Catrin kens well how to please a young man

Lifting him to heaven with softest touch

While foul Roslyn doth kiss as best she can,

Sadly, she seems to slobber over much.

Black hairs about her lips cluster and clutch,

But in fairness and honesty I must tell,

In truth, always she has kept them brushed well.

No more shall I believe that love can last!

No more shall fair Catrin close swive to me1

It has become a dream of the sweet past,

Our fond embrace beneath the linden tree.

Though it seems most cruel, our love is not to be.

For, of years Roslyn has twenty and four,

And fair Catrin has (alas!) two and four score.

Bastard Quatrain Version:

The Reluctant Husband

It is with heavy heart this morn,

That I approach the chapel door,

For this morn is my wedding day.

I shall tarry with my love na’more!

The silver ring seems jailor’s chain.

Tis hard fate for man young to bear,

Marriage to a woman so foul,

When he has known a love so fair.

It is fine sweet Kathrine that I love,

With golden locks light as air.

Not lumbering fat Rosamund,

With a bramblepatch for hair.

Fair Kathrine possesses skin soft,

Fresh and clean as morning dew.

Foul Rosamund’s face, never washed,

Sores and spots she has not few.

Fair Kathrine is as slim and sweet,

As a green slip of lily stem.

Fat Rosamund is foul and round,

A sink-pool in the fetid fen.

Fair Kathrine’s dance step has no par.

Her steps are quick and full of grace.

Foul Rosamund naps through the dance,

Flies lighting quick upon her face.

Fair Kathrine’s wit is quick and keen,

None can match her in a learned duel.

Ask foul Rosamund for two and two,

She’ll think you a tormentor cruel.

Fair Kathrine kens how to please a man,

Bringing him to heaven with a touch.

Foul Rosamund’s kisses are wet,

She slobbers and drools overmuch.

One last time I held Katharine close,

Beneath the bowing linden tree,

And she refused me once again,

As I begged her to swive to me.

With sore heart, I bid her farewell,

For our love is not meant to be:

Of years Rosamund has one and eight,

And fair Kathrine has eight and three.

Poem: Oglacha

This is a poem I wrote for a Danelaw that had an Irish theme, Cattle Raids to be precise.  The oglacha is an apprentice version of the dan direach form, which is allowed more liberties. I attempted to follow dan direach conventions as strictly as possible, with the exception of meter, my Achilles heel.

Oglacha for a Fall Day

Sundered stones scudding across the sere sky

Skystorm clouds clad the clear cold day

Day calm like this I can see to a bold high heaven

High heaven far flung for other men made

Men made for the coppery clang and clash

Clash and clamor of a Cooley cattle raid

Raid red rough and bright brilliant

Brilliant shields shining sunbright

Sunbright underneath a distant dawn

Dawn here had the calm air chill

Chill cold simple scent of slaughterhouse

Slaughterhouse smell of warm wet animals

Animals sickly steaming above the cool stone

Stone sluiced savage, close clung with messages

Messages marking high heaven indeed is for other men

Men unweary, men unlike this troubled troubadour

Troubador troubled by the lonely lowing

Lowing lost kyne cast upon the sundered stones.