In this post two very different poets (both from Knopf’s Poem-a-Day), one who wrote about fishing almost five hundred years ago in Korea, and a Canadian, who turned his poems into songs.
A good poem doesn’t have to be hard to understand or to memorize, have to rhyme, or be of the “I wandered lonely as a cloud” variety many of us hated learning at school, with a few skillfully chosen words a good poet can explain the deep mysteries of life.
Two Poems On Fishing by Kwon Homun (1532-1587)
translated from Korean by Jaihiun Kim
Should I go drinking and wenching?
Oh, no. It isn’t proper for the poet that I am.
Shall I go hunting wealth and honor?
I am not inclined that way either.
Well, let me be a fisherman or shepherd
and enjoy myself on the reedy shore.
When it stops raining at the fishing site
I will use green-moss for bait.
With no idea of catching the fish
I will enjoy watching them at play.
A slice of moon passes as it casts a silver line
onto the green stream below.
from the Pocket Poets collection, The Art of Angling, edited by Henry Hughes.
“Fishing has always inspired a wealth of poetry and the collection in this book includes Tang Dynasty meditations, Japanese haiku, medieval rhymes, classic verses by Homer and Shakespeare, poems by Donne, Goethe, Tennyson, and Yeats, as well as modern works by Federico García Lorca, Elizabeth Bishop, Ted Hughes, Robert Lowell, Raymond Carver, Atwood, Audre Lorde, Richard Hugo, and Derek Walcott.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
[the more things change, the more they stay the same]
500 years later over here in North America Mr F’s preferred form of fishing is ‘catch-and-release‘ (though who knows how long there’ll still be fish to catch if we still use pesticides like atrazine).
The next poet doesn’t really need an introduction: Leonard Cohen (born 1934) a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet and novelist.
Some of his songs are like poems, and some of his poems are like songs; his rebellious, tender, sardonic voice inheres throughout.
These Heroics by Leonard Cohen
If I had a shining head
and people turned to stare at me
in the streetcars;
and I could stretch my body
through the bright water
and keep abreast of fish and water snakes;
if I could ruin my feathers
in flight before the sun;
do you think that I would remain in this room,
reciting poems to you,
and making outrageous dreams
with the smallest movements of your mouth?
– from Poems and Songs an Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets edition