I read a poem.
"A Bouquet" by Bei Dao
(1) Between me and the world
You are a bay, a sail
The faithful ends of a rope
You are a fountain, a wind
A shrill childhood cry
(2) Between me and the world
You are a picture frame, a window
A field covered with wild flowers
You are a breath, a bed
A night that keeps the stars company
(3) Between me and the world
You are a calendar, a compass
A ray of light that slips through the gloom
You are a biographical sketch, a bookmark
A preface that comes at the end
(4) Between me and the world
You are a gauze curtain, a mist
A lamp shining into my dreams
You are a bamboo flute, a song without words
A closed eyelid carved in stone
(5) Between me and the world
You are a chasm, a pool
An abyss plunging down
You are a balustrade, a wall
A shield's eternal pattern
Now, my copy of this poem is filled with musings, wanderings and mark-ups that I made after and while reading this. Like, the first stanza- to be a sail, it is something that leads you and guides in the right direction. It is a slave to the wind, a roamer, traveler, yet is it forced and pushed to lead? Is it not put up by someone to help them on their right path?
In the 2nd stanza, the person is a picture frame, a window. This hints that there is something deeper, more meaningful even within. What picture does it frame? Is the poet attempting to find out?
Like these first two observations, there is so much in this poem that so ineptly hints at the darker mysteries, intricacies, insecurities, fears, worries, and unbeknownst qualities of a relationship. Though its hints do not detract from the positive, appreciative, and hopeful feelings the poet has towards its recipient. While each stanza may refer to a "gauze curtain," "chasm," "abyss plunging down," "a mist," each stanza ends with admiration and hope. I think this so truly portrays a relationship of love. Love is a plunge into another person's chasm; you cannot know the true depths of that person, cannot fathom how deep it truly is. You cannot know where all the cracks and crevices lie. You cannot know what secrets, treasures, or surprises you will find within them. But, you were not pushed begrudgingly into this unknowing abyss of another person- you plunged into it. There is both lightness and darkness in this person. You searched out the ray of light that dispels your gloom. You know, or at least hope, they are not only the fall but the faithful rope, sail, compass that guides you through it. You travel together; at times the leader and at times the follower.
Dao so cleverly implies the duality, complexity, jigsaw puzzle realities of love. And something that speaks the loudest to me are the last two lines: "You are a balustrade, a wall/A shield's eternal pattern." A wall has such double meanings. A wall must be climbed. It not only blocks out others, protects those behind it, but it needs, calls, to be climbed. It is intimidating, it hides something, it must be conquered. It was so strongly built with time and care, but there must be something on the other side. And if a person really loves someone, they should take the time and care to climb out and find out what is hidden behind.
Now, all of my musings are just that- my musings. This poem originally being written in Chinese further clouds my findings, because who knows what was lost in translation? What words are not exactly what the author really meant?
And what used to bother me, drive me crazy, about poetry I am now actually finding to be poetry's true beauty. I used to think that poetry was bull. Everything and every word was over analyzed, construed to be something not originally intended by the poet- because how can we know what the poet actually meant by their specific word choice and imagery?
So why did I have to waste so many hours analyzing its meaning which was so clouded in personification or vague language? There are so many countless, potential meanings of a poem. It could mean anything, everything, or nothing, all of which depended on the reader. The reader, an ever-changing human being whose thoughts and feelings and knowledge are so constantly changing and evolving, that how could a poem ever ALWAYS mean one, same thing to such an inconstant being?
And now, I think I am realizing that that is the true beauty of good poetry. When a poem can speak to so many different people, on so many different levels and meanings, and show such breadth and universality and timelessness, when a poem can change its meaning to the same person depending on the time of day and year that it is read, when a poem helps someone discover something about themselves or the world- THAT is great poetry.
And maybe it's not what the poet had intended its meaning to be, but that's the point. If the poet wanted the readers to only feel one way about his subject, if he wanted the readers to know certain things- he would not be a poet. He would be a lawyer or judge. He would write HOW-TO books or write philosophy. He would come right out and say it!
The poet does not. The poet takes the reader through a maze of words and lines, a jigsaw puzzle of images, a smattering of pictures to create a piece of work that is blissfully vague, peacefully puzzling. It is not math where there is one correct answer; there isn't a right or wrong way to read it. It is supposed to be analyzed a million different ways, and it supposed to have a million right answers, and it is supposed to be analyzed uniquely to the reader.
Between me and the world, poetry is a bouquet. It is a mix of emotions, feelings, meanings, analyses, words, images, puzzles, pictures, metaphors, similes, cloudy mists, colors, languages, snapshots, and mysteries. Between me and the world, poetry is an abyss plunging down- I don't know where it will take me, what lies within, or how long I will fall, but I will plunge into it.