Monday, July 21, 2014

Wagon by Zbigniew Herbert


What is he doing
this century-old man
his face like an old book
his eyes dry of tears
his lips pursed tight
guarding memories
history’s mutterings

now when
winter hills
are fading
and Fujiyama enters the constellation Orion
a centenarian—emperor god and bureaucrat
—is writing

these are not acts
of pardon
or acts of wrath
of generals
elaborate tortures
but a piece
for the yearly
traditional poetry competition

the theme
is a wagon
the form: the venerable tanka
five verse lines
thirty-one syllables

“taking a seat on a train
of the state railway line
I meditate on the world
of my grandfather
the emperor Meiji"

a poem
ostensibly mundane
with its breath held
no false posturings

from the glibly lachrymal
handiwork of modernity
full of triumphal howling

a scrap
on the railway
devoid of melancholy
of the bustle before a long journey
and even devoid
of pity and hope

I think
of Hirohito
with an aching heart

his stooped shoulders
his frozen head
his old doll’s face

I think of his
dry eyes
small hands
slow mind
like the pause between
one screech of the owl
and another
I wonder
with an aching heart
what will be the fate
of traditional poetry

will it pass away
after the emperor’s shadow


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