Poetry Moment: On Time

Time is a subject ripe for rueful reflections – best expressed, in my opinion through the lyrical lines of a poem. Here are two Asian poems on this treasure called Time.

Time (Rabindranath Tagore)

The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.

Time is a wealth of change,
but the clock in its parody makes it mere change and no wealth.

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time,
like dew on the tip of a leaf.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is a poet of incredible variety, always innovative and given to endless experimentation. Surveying his poems, one could exclaim, as Dryden did about Chaucer, “Here is God’s plenty.” It is said that Tagore was only a child when he began to rhyme, and biographers have recorded vividly how even as the 80-year old poet lay dying in 1941, poems kept coming to him. The love of a lyrically full life is a recurring theme in Tagore’s prose, poetry and songs.

Gazing at Spring (Xue Tao)

Flowers bloom:
no one
to enjoy them with.

Flowers fall:
no one
with whom to grieve.

I wonder when love’s
stir us most –
when flowers bloom,
or when flowers fall?

Xue Tao (768-831) is a poet and courtesan of the Tang Dynasty and one of the most famous woman Chinese poets of all time. Some 450 poems by Xue Tao were gathered in “The Brocade River Collection” that survived until the 14th century. Today, about a hundred of her poems survived. They range widely in tone and topic, giving evidence of a highly talented poet with more than passing acquaintance with the great tradition of earlier Chinese poetry.

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