9/9, Thinking of My Brothers East of the Mountains

Each year on this auspicious day, alone and foreign
here in a foreign place, my thoughts of you sharpen:

far away, I can almost see you reaching the summit,
dogwood berries woven into sashes, short one person.

-Wang Wei

Translated by David Hinton

I’ve always been a person who likes short poetry, and short poetry has always found a welcome home in Asia, it seems. The longer a poem gets, the more I can’t help but wonder why it’s a poem at all, rather than prose. Economy is crucial, to me.

The language here is very simple, but telling. Sharpening a thought can mean that it’s more clear, but it can also mean that it is now more able to cut. I think both meanings are intended, here.

The note explains that it is a ritual, on the ninth day of the ninth month, to go up the mountain and sip wine. His absence is felt more keenly during a broken habit, a feeling I know well enough.

3 Responses to “9/9, Thinking of My Brothers East of the Mountains”

  1. Rick says:

    I understand why some poems are shorter and I agree, sometimes poems just seem too long. But some of the best poems ever are pretty long. Rime of the Ancient Mariner would not have worked as well as a narrative.

  2. Ryan says:

    I like how haiku-like this poem is.
    It is in fact a very sharp poem.
    Simple, concise, original, and cutting.
    Straight to the point, as it were.

  3. lizgerber says:

    This is a lovely poem! I really like the image of the berries woven into sashes.

    I prefer short poems, too, because so much can be said without telling: they remind me more of that saying ” a picture’s worth a thousand words,” where small poems leave room for so many more interpretations. I feel like they are more mine.