a capping verse*

Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty,
I Pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles

by Billy Collins

















It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.
Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe if is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.
“Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon” is one of Bun Tung Po’s.
“Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea”
is another one, or just
“On a Boat, Awake at Night.”
And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
“In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Hear the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed to be Saying
My Woman is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem.”
There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with the headings like ‘Vortex on a String,”
“The Horn of Neurosis,” or whatever.
No confusing inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, “I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall”
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.
And “The Days of Rain Have Kept Me Indoors”
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends
How easy he had made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner;
my legs like his, and listen.

*I wanted to use this as a capping verse when I worked on Case 17 of the Mumonkan. "When the country is flourishing, talent is prized. When the home is wealthy, the children are proud." Thank you John!

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