December 24th, 2002

caillebotte_man at his window

Night of Reading Chinese Verse

As the gibbous moon rose, its light revealed small patches of thin clouds in the east. Through the night, each time I went out, the clouds veiled more of the sky and grew thicker. Around the moon, there always remained that swath of powdery blue that drifts like sheer silk on the softest of breezes. There was always enough light that each tall pine displayed its form against the sky, and each bare branch and twig of oak and walnut, maple and mulberry could be discerned, dark tracery attenuating and ending like vanishing paths, or the streams of a delta being swallowed by a sea or a desert.

The hushed house slept as I read. I visited vanished seasons and landscapes, and old words peopled my room with ghosts. I drifted along the rivers of T'ang Dynasty China with Tu Fu. At last, I came to a poem he wrote in his last years-- one in which he makes a reference to Yang Chu, a 4th c. B.C.E. philosopher who once wept upon reaching a fork in the road, because he knew that either choice would only lead to yet another fork, and that he would become more and more lost.

Heaven's design blossoms and leafs out,
Stone roots bind rivers and streams: clouds
Mirroring glimmers of dawn shadow, each
Cold current traces its scar. Yang Chu's

Tears come easily here. Ch'u Yuan's wandering
Soul cannot be summoned. As wind and
Billowing waves load the teetering dusk, we
Abandon oars for a night in whose home?

It seemed a fitting end to the night's journey, and appropriate to the season, so near the year's end. I went back outdoors for a moment, and saw that the clouds had grown so thick that not even bright Venus could penetrate them. Only the moon still glowed through, circled now by a halo of colors from its refracted light.