Reading An Anthology Of Chinese Poems Of The Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire The Length And Clarity Of Their Titles Poem by Billy Collins

Reading An Anthology Of Chinese Poems Of The Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire The Length And Clarity Of Their Titles

Rating: 4.2


It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel--Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.

COMMENTS OF THE POEM
Michael Shepherd 18 March 2005

I've run out of superlatives...

2 0 Reply
Kjxnhvkzdh Vnhcjfh 10 March 2009

wow i will give you a +10

1 1 Reply

Very interesting poem.Now I will look up the poets of the Sung dynasty.

1 0 Reply
Michael Walker 15 January 2020

Quite a complex, even obscure poem. in some ways, it is critical of Chinese poets and their poems. The last three lines give a more positive attitude. Well worth reading carefully and slowly.

2 0 Reply
ur moms penne 31 March 2019

ur mom has a penne beebeebebebeebbebebeASDJAHSDHASKJDKJASHDKJa

1 3 Reply
Joseph Pedulla 26 October 2016

Once again, as always, the appeal to simplicity. Poetry in Billy Collins' mind should be easy. No difficult titles, please, like The Waste Land or Ozymandius or Gerontion. No! We have to be spoon-fed this retiree pablum so that our baby teeth don't hurt too much. Awwwww, wittle wittle baby, here's a poem for baby!

2 4 Reply

mr. pe-dull-a; get a life. if you don't like the poetry of Billy Collins, then why do you persist in complaining? Go away and write some poetry, if you are even able

1 0
Bud Art 08 June 2009

What happened over the years that we have come to value obscurity over clarity. Perhaps in the name of structure, rhyming, metaphor. Perhaps just a matter of ego. If you are as smart as me you will get it. If not well..... What is gained by writing a poem that requires a degree in literature and the mastery of three languages, two of them dead, to be comprehensible? ?

4 0 Reply
Joseph Pedulla 26 October 2016

It's not a battle between obscurity and clarity with Collins, you see; it's about the fact that his best notions are nothing but passing whimsy. There is not a single idea he propounds that is worth more than a few seconds' notice. He never verges on the big questions, no. He studiously avoids anything but tea and icicles and good paper with a number two pencil while petting his dog. It's all Hallmark pablum! Great poetry is not obscure; it is difficult because the poet is straining to say something that is GREAT and to say it with language that is GREAT. To put it into art terms: Collins is a cartoonist; Frost was a Michelangelo! A poem, by the way, can be profound without being obscure. But Collins' poems are not profound, because his themes are not profound and he is not profound. Simple as that (no joke intended) .

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