Monday, October 31, 2016

mississippi ave octet

bicycle wheel with derailer lashed to a
fence; above, mare’s tails east, mackerel sky west—

I’ve been here before: the japanese maple’s
fragile hands, a lace-knit sweater worn baggy—

blank reverse face of street signs against the sky:
an empty paper cup on a bus stop bench—

bare hawthorn propped up by a crooked steel post;
late sun’s long fingers nearly long as yours

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

“Night Piece (Notturno) for Solo Piano”

As a follow-up to last Sunday’s post of Pärt’s “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten”, today’s musical offering is a piano piece by Britten. “Night Piece” was written in 1963 for the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition. It really is exquisite.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
"Mondnacht III, Seehausen" ("Moonlit night III, Sea Houses"): Fritz Overbeck; oil on canvas; 1900.
Public domain.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

midnight octet

oxygen concentrator breathes in, breathes out;
orange security lights on wet pavement

gleam; cars sleep like glass beasts shining & heavy;
gray table lamp, framed photos, chrysanthemum

blooms: unseen waning crescent set hours back
but through blinds my reflection in the window:

white-streaked beard, hair’s cowlicks: this world is perfect—
there’s the wall clock now—is that what I’ll tell you

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

october moon (8 quatrains)

1. new moon

three crows hunched on the chain link fence in drizzle;
black bicycle locked to the corner staple,

which is blue—seven of spades on a sidewalk
dry patch: unseen halo around this black moon

2. waxing crescent

green streetcar pauses amidst blue-white headlights;
etched glass shelter reflects its approach under

green Chinese elms—gray overcast opens west;
a silver comma suspended in deep blue

3. half moon

on one sidewalk a broken red umbrella;
on another the red delicious tilted—

sharp angle of light strikes the zelkovia;
half-circle slants aloft, white apparition

4. waxing gibbous

one goose afloat in Tilikum’s blue shadow;
flock of gulls & kayaks ride the ripples’ flash--

quake & rattle as the train crosses the bridge;
imperfect sphere coming up above black wires

5. full moon

what the rain says translates to incoherence;
the wind chimes’ metallic tune rings haphazard—

clouds hasten east, flushed lurid with city lights;
amongst them a perfect circle shines blurred white

6. waning gibbous

a basketball court slick with rain & leaf fall;
puddles surround second base on the ballfield—

on Burnside guardian lion dogs loom black;
diminishing silver sphere where night clouds break

7. last quarter

the sweet gum drops mottled leaves like stars falling;
outside the hospital, brown-streaked mushrooms swell—

an arc of white plates laid out on a wet lawn:
daytime moon: equilibrium of decline

8. waning crescent

a dozen crows erupt from the hospital’s
level roof; such high windows, such golden lights

arrayed above distant chairs: in gray-white sky
an open parenthesis seeking closure

Jack Hayes
© 2016   

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

interstate avenue octet #2

defunct bowling alley fringed with camellias
& cyclone fence: the avenue’s not quiet—

a shovel scraping birch leaves off the sidewalk,
a train’s heavy metal commotion under

electrified wires & the steel cloud vortex;
traffic’s inarticulate fiberglass sigh—

crow has its say, flaps off the power pole as

I wait for this walk sign to flash white again

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Monday, October 24, 2016

autumn meditation #3

autumn meditation #3

a thousand houses, mountain-walled, in gentle morning light;
day after day sitting in the river tower in blue haze—

out for two nights straight the fishermen drifting, drifting;
in clear autumn, swallows young and old, darting, darting—

Kuang Heng’s remonstrance to the emperor: fame and honor slight;
Liu Xiang passing on the classics: vocation gone astray—

schoolmates from youth: many of them are not poor;
at Five Tombs their robes are light and their horses stout

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Du Fu:
秋興八首 (三)
qiū xìng bā shŏu (sān)


  • Kuang Heng & Liu Xiang: Two figures from the Han Dynasty. Kuang Heng rose to prominence as a statesman based on his memorials (policy proposals) to the Emperor, while Liu Xiang was a renowned scholar. Du Fu is contrasting his failed career to their success.
  • Line 8: This refers to two passages from The Analects, both of which are given here in James Legge’s translation. I use Legge’s translation because it’s in the public domain, but I also cross-reference Waley’s:

Yan Yuan and Ji Lu being by his side, the Master said to them, "Come, let each of you tell his wishes." Zi Lu said, "I should like, having chariots and horses, and light fur clothes, to share them with my friends, and though they should spoil them, I would not be displeased." Yan Yuan said, "I should like not to boast of my excellence, nor to make a display of my meritorious deeds." Zi Lu then said, "I should like, sir, to hear your wishes." The Master said, "They are, in regard to the aged, to give them rest; in regard to friends, to show them sincerity; in regard to the young, to treat them tenderly." Analects V.26 in Legge; [V.25 in Waley]

Zi Hua being employed on a mission to Qi, the disciple Ran requested grain for his mother. The Master said, "Give her a fu." Ran requested more. "Give her an yu," said the Master. Ran gave her five bing. The Master said, "When Chi was proceeding to Qi, he had fat horses to his carriage, and wore light furs. I have heard that a superior man helps the distressed, but does not add to the wealth of the rich." Analects VI.4, James Legge translation [VI.3 in Waley translation]

A few points of note. In the first passage (which Owen stresses in his reading of the poem), Ji Lu (who is also called Zi Lu—that’s not a typo, as well as Zhong You) was considered a paragon of filial piety & was one of Confucius’ most highly regarded disciples.

In the second passage (which Watson stresses in his reading; since Du Fu’s audience would essentially know The Analects by heart, I expect Du Fu intended both passages to resonate), Chi is shown as an example of someone who shirks filial obligations, as he has valued luxury over devotion. His horses literally are “fat”, which suggests how well he feeds them, while others are needy; Sheila & I debated the translation of the 肥 féi ("fat") character quite a bit, & finally settled on "stout". The passage looks on Chi pejoratively, & this certainly has resonance in Du Fu’s poem. 

As always, deep gratitude to Sheila Graham-Smith, & also to the scholars & translators who have done so much to elucidate this great poetry.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:“Pleasures of the Tang court”: Tang Dynasty, 8th century.
Public domain.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten"

A musical offering today from one of my favorite composers, Arvo Pärt. “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten” was written in 1977 in response to Benjamin Britten’s death the previous year. Pärt stated of the work:

Why did the date of Benjamin Britten's death – 4 December 1976 – touch such a chord in me? During this time I was obviously at the point where I could recognise the magnitude of such a loss. Inexplicable feelings of guilt, more than that even, arose in me. I had just discovered Britten for myself. Just before his death I began to appreciate the unusual purity of his music – I had had the impression of the same kind of purity in the ballads of Guillaume de Machaut. And besides, for a long time I had wanted to meet Britten personally – and now it would not come to that.

The Cantus is written in A minor (Aeolian mode), & employs a string orchestra & a bell; the work is composed in Pärt’s tintinnabuli style. As his biographer, Paul Hillier wrote of Pärt’s composition: "how we live depends on our relationship with death: how we make music depends on our relationship to silence."

Quotations & background information from the Wikipedia entry—see link above.


Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image captures the remnants of a long-dead star. These rippling wisps of ionised gas, named DEM L316A, are located some 160 000 light-years away within one of the Milky Way’s closest galactic neighbours — the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).

The explosion that formed DEM L316A was an example of an especially energetic and bright variety of supernova, known as a Type Ia. Such supernova events are thought to occur when a white dwarf star steals more material than it can handle from a nearby companion, and becomes unbalanced. The result is a spectacular release of energy in the form of a bright, violent explosion, which ejects the star’s outer layers into the surrounding space at immense speeds. As this expelled gas travels through the interstellar material, it heats it up and ionise it, producing the faint glow that Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 has captured here.
The LMC orbits the Milky Way as a satellite galaxy and is the fourth largest in our group of galaxies, the Local Group. DEM L316A is not alone in the LMC; Hubble came across another one in 2010 with SNR 0509 (heic1018), and in 2013 it snapped SNR 0519 (potw1317a).
Date     25 July 2016, 06:00:00
ESA/Hubble & NASA, Y. Chu

The image is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license and may on a non-exclusive basis be reproduced without fee provided they are clearly and visibly credited. Detailed conditions are below; see the ESA copyright statement for full information.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

autumn meditation #2

autumn meditation #2

on Kuizhou’s lonely walls the slant evening light;
I rely on the Dipper when looking for the exalted capital—

it's true: three cries from the gibbons bring on tears;
false that my mission can follow the eighth-month raft—

the ministry’s portrait hall censer intrudes on my rest;
the tower’s white-washed battlements hide a sad reed flute—

look! above wisteria laden stones, the moon;
it shines already on the island’s reed blossoms

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Du Fu:
秋興八首 (二)
qiū xìng bā shŏu (èr)


  • Kuizhou is the name of the prefecture; Du Fu is actually in Baidicheng.
  • Three cries from the gibbons: this refers to an old song that says three cries from the gibbons in the Yangzi's Three Gorges will move one to tears.
  • The eighth-month raft: this refers both to the explorer Zhang Qian who followed the Yellow River to its source on a mission from Emperor Wu of Han, & also to story about a man who boarded a raft that appeared to him in the eighth month (remember, this is a lunarsolar calendar, so roughly, September), & was able to travel the Celestial River, one of the Chinese terms for what we call the Milky Way. As scholar & translator Burton Watson points out, both of these voyages were successful, whereas Du Fu's career has been in his eyes a failure.
  • Line five: this refers to the time when Du Fu worked in the Department of State Affairs (or in Owen, the Board of Works), in a building decorated with official portraits. Watson states that women tended the incense burners that perfumed the robes of the officials. The Chinese character we translated as "rest" (literally, "pillow") has connotations that Du Fu is ill & bedridden. He often describes himself as being in poor health.

As always, deep gratitude to the work done by my translation partner Sheila Graham-Smith, & acknowledgement to notes & background material from Stephen Owen, Watson, & William Hung. 

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
“The Dunhuang star map of 700 AD. British Library Or.8210/S.3326 Ursa Major, Sagittarius and Capricornus are recognizable. The three colors (white, black and yellow) indicate the schools of astronomy of Shih Shen, Kan Te, and Wu Hsien.”
Public Domain

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

interstate avenue octet

the ladybug, still awake in October,
scurries from one wet fallen leaf to the next—

in mist katsuras shed yellow foliage;
the red oak’s still-green leaves turn nearly silver—

walking the avenue I speak the trees’ names
as if speaking your own name to the wind’s gust—

clanging bell on the light rail barreling north;
canada geese move south through layered clouds

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

Autumn Meditation

Autumn Meditation


Waning moon, 98.1 %
illuminated, climbing into cloud,
twilight fading - not blind nightfall, though
that will come –  margins of the visible:
blear line of the south mountain, Mars
sinking in the west, the Milky Way
shuttered, Altair and Vega estranged,
Zhinü’s silk endlessly webbing
subtle shiftless air.

Grey head bent over an ancient song –
lying alone by the cold river,
surprised by the evening of the year
your lamp will not suffice.
And what of that 1.9 %
short of perfection? That ragged edge
of light, mouse-eaten against the dark?
Lyly claimed in all perfect shapes a
blemish brings a liking every way
to the eyes
. Go to the window, love.
The nights grow long.

© 2016 

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Cloud Study, Moonlight”: Albert Bierstadt, circa 1860: oil on paper.

 Public domain.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

wind storm quatrain

a junco in the broken eucalyptus
finds its voice in the wind’s suspended 4th chord—

I’m turning, turning away from jagged rain;
the crow just pecks, pecks in the emerald grass

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016



I had a little nut tree, nothing would it bear
but a silver nutmeg and a golden pear.

So many shades of copper tinted orange,
orange tinted red, red washed out to evening’s
pink tints, late light in the breach,
and certain long shadows missing from the lawn.
Golden light on finches in and out of the hedgerow,
golden leaves of birch just turning,
golden edges of frost burnt hostas…

A point in time – now, for instance –
compression of desire. A point in space –
here, with a third quarter moon rising through
the maple and cows waiting at the gate –
expansion of desire. The walnut, still green, still
bearing pale, unripe fruit, sprawls on the grass, trunk split,
branches fractured; safe there from wind.

© 2016

Image links to its source:
The image was found at The image is by Eleanor Vere Boyle & dates to the 19th century; thus it’s in the public domain.

For more information on the epigraph, please see this link.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

partridge sky

partridge sky

this winter sun—dreary so dreary—climbs past my locked window:
parasol trees must hate frosty nights returning—
wine’s all gone, better savor bitter tea instead;
& my dream’s cut short: borneol’s insistent, aromatic—
autumn’s already used up
but the days remain long:
like Zong Xuan’s homesick heart, but colder, more bitter—
it’s not as if happiness follows the intoxicating cup: don’t
forget yellow chrysanthemums budding by the eastern hedge

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Li Qingzhaho:
zhègū tiān

Partridge Sky: This ci poem is set to an existing tune, which is "Partridge Sky".
Borneol: "Borneol is easily oxidized to the ketone (camphor). One historical name for borneol is Borneo camphor which explains the name.... Borneol is used in traditional Chinese medicine as moxa." 
Zong Xuan: Also known as Wang Can, a Han Dynasty poet, who composed 七哀诗 qī āi shī, usually translated as "The Song of Seven Sorrows". In addition, the final line alludes to some famous lines by Six Dynasties poet, Tao Yuanming, here in Arthur Waley's translation:

I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
Then gaze long at the distant summer hills.
The mountain air is fresh at the dusk of day:
The flying birds two by two return.
In these things there lies a deep meaning;
Yet when we would express it, words suddenly fail us.

The poem is posted today to mark the 重陽節 Chóng yáng jié or Double Ninth Festival; this falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar, & is also known as the 菊節 Jú jié or Chrysanthemum Festival.

Thanks as always to my partner Sheila Graham-Smith for her invaluable research & editorial work.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Chrysanthemums: Xue Wu, 17th century, ink and gold on paper, Honolulu Museum of Art, accession 2312.1
Public domain

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

new moon quatrain

three crows hunched on the chain link fence in drizzle;
black bicycle locked to the corner staple,

which is blue—seven of spades on a sidewalk
dry patch: unseen halo around this black moon

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

autumn meditation #1

autumn meditation #1

jade dew withers & maims the maple forest;
on Wu Mountain, in Wu Gorge, the air’s bleak & gloomy—

on the river, waves surge to meet the sky;
above the border pass, wind-blown clouds overshadow the earth—

chrysanthemums twice have brought on tears for the past;
a lonely boat the one link to my heart’s homeland—

reminders everywhere: winter clothes cut & measured;
over Baidicheng, twilight song of pounding stones

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Du Fu:
秋興八首 (一)
qiū xìng bā shŏu (yī)

Over the next several weeks we’ll be posting our English language versions of Du Fu’s秋興, qiū xìng, or “autumn meditations” series. From a certain perspective, translation is always an impossible endeavor, & translating a poet as great as Du Fu should always be approached with humility. This is even more true when translating a major work like the 秋興, qiū xìng. I do hope our humble versions inspire readers to seek out other versions & also learn more about this truly remarkable poet.

The “meditations” are dense & packed with meaning & allusion, & so notes will be important.  The series was composed in 766 while Du Fu had settled in Kuizhou, specifically in Baidicheng (literally “White Emperor City”) in what is now Chongqing. Du Fu had again moved south after further turmoil in Chengdu forced him to leave behind his “thatched cottage” there, & he spent two years in Baidicheng on the Yangzi, & near Qutang Gorge. During his sojourn in this area, Du Fu wrote around 400 poems, including many of his most notable works.

This is the “Three Gorges” region of the Yangzi, & Wu Gorge, mentioned in the first line, is to the east. It’s also referred to as the Great Gorge, & is the middle of the three. Wu Mountain is north of Wu Gorge. Also in the first line: “jade dew” is a common trope for autumn.

The fourth couplet is of particular interest: based our Sheila’s research, in our reading the preparations for winter are serving to underline Du Fu’s homesickness, already raised in the third couplet. The sound of mallets striking cloth laid out on the pounding blocks was also a trope in Classical Chinese poetry. It typically evokes the melancholy feeling of autumn, as it’s an activity linked to that season. In addition, it can evoke feelings of longing for a spouse who’s absent; for a male poet, it can bring up the idea of a lost domesticity, while for a female poet (or a female speaker written by a male poet) it can bring up feelings of longing for a husband who’s far away, especially one who’s serving as a soldier. In fact, both Du Fu & Li Bai wrote poems in the voice of a woman engaged in clothes pounding while yearning for her husband who’s away in the army, serving in the border passes.

As always, I’m indebted to Sheila for her research & editorial work. We are both indebted to the notes & writings of Burton Watson, Stephen Owen, & William Hung—to name three of the most prominent Du Fu translators—as well as to Tu Fu's "Autumn Meditations": An Exercise in Linguistic Criticism: Tsu-lin Mei & Yu-kung Kao. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 28 (1968), pp. 44-80.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk: Cropped from a Song dynasty painting attributed to Emperor Huizong in the style of Tang dynasty painter Zhang Xuan. Between 1100 and 1133. Indian ink and color on silk
Public domain