Saturday, March 28, 2009

Love of Ci'an (Poem with Poet's Comments)

"Love of Ci'an"
by Tim Kavi

gentle breezes

flew from
frozen lake

I walked it

with my love

near Cixi's place

Then I heard

her gentle sighs

in the full light

of winter's surprise


in the hall of

the Buddhas

near a

Temple of Incense

your heart

was fully seen

in the ghostly sheen

mist of

winter morn

I heard

your whispers

to a future unborn

for in the

plans of Cixi
you were


love was but a dream

in the smoke

and carried



yet it

my cold hands
with the gloves

you bought


the Great Wall


to the Deserts

of Dunhuang

as beautiful

as Guan Yin

the wind

that blew between

us and brought

me to your wings

to your lips

two countries
two hearts

that had
now evolved
to mix together
yet now lived
so far apart


each other

in that first

destiny's kiss

but was

too soon departed.

Poet's Comments: After publishing this poem it raised some reader interest, and I was contacted with some questions about it. The consensus among readers was that there is something Chinese and Buddhist about the poem and that it is also a personal poem. Yes, this poem does have several levels of meaning to it and there are aspects of it that are written in a very personal way.

First of all, the poem has both Buddhist and Chinese themes. It is Buddhist because it mentions the Caves of Dunhuang (where some sacred Buddhist cave drawings are near where the Goddess Guan Yin encountered the Monkey King). Guan Yin the Bodhisattva or Buddhist Goddess of Compassion is mentioned in the poem as well. The poem has Chinese influences as well because the setting of the poem is in China at The Summer Palace in Beijing. Kunming Lake is there, and I did walk on the frozen lake in the Winter of 2005. Later that day, I also had the pleasure of touring the grounds of the Summer Palace, including the Long Corridor and at the very highest point, the Buddhist Temple of Incense. This was in part, a building with a very large Buddha in it and many other Buddhas lined the walls of that place.

The Summer Palace was one of the residences of the Emperor and Empress, indeed the last of them, as the Qing Dynasty ended in 1908. The last major empress to live there was Cixi who supplanted Ci'an. Cixi was a powerful empress, some would consider a despot and villain, others see her as very intelligent and highly political. Ci'an was the main consort of the Emperor until Cixi became the predominant one and bore the Emperor his only son. Where Ci'an was quiet, loyal, and an Empress known for meekness, Cixi was very much her opposite, skillful and manipulative, and ruling whatever she could with a conniving and mighty fist. Although an Empress was never allowed to make political suggestions, Cixi often did so from behind a curtain. Cixi became the main Empress especially after the sudden death of Ci'an. Some believe that Ci'an was poisoned by Cixi because Ci'an had always been in excellent health until the day of her untimely death.

In this poem there is some encounter with a presence or ghostlike figure, such as Ci'an. Ci'an, who feels overlooked, is longing for love. Her spirit is felt by the foreigner who even comes from a distant land. Like incense, her symbolic nature as part of history spreads out over the Great Wall and then all the way to the Dunhuang caves (which is out along the Silk Road and near Mongolia) where she is like the goddess. As a counterpoint there is a dramatic outplaying of this tension between two cross cultural lovers as they are finding each other in love --shown in other verses of this poem. This mirrors China's encounters with the West in general. Obviously, some of the verses in the poem are between the two lovers themselves as they find themselves in this historical place, or perhaps, there is an encounter of a man with the ghost of Ci'an! ---- T.K.

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