WHAT IS POETRY?

by contemplativeinquiry

Yang Wan-li’s poem ‘What is Poetry?’ asks the question from the Buddhist and Taoist influenced perspective of Sung Dynasty China (the poet lived in our 12th. century – a little younger than Geoffrey of Monmouth, a little older than Gerald of Wales). It is also timeless.

Now, what is poetry?

If you say it is a matter of words,

I will say a good poet gets rid of words.

If you say it is simply a matter of meaning,

I will say a good poet gets rid of meaning,

“But”, you ask, “without words and without meaning

Where is the poetry?”

To this I reply: “Get rid of words and get rid of meaning,

And there is still poetry.”

From Yang Wan-li Heaven my Blanket: Earth my Pillow: Poems from Sung Dynasty China New York & Tokyo: Weatherall, 1975 (Translated and introduced by Jonathan Chaves)