A good-bye It may seem perverse to restart a blog after a month-long hiatus with a poem called ‘A good-bye’, but there is a reason for it. I’ve recently moved home from my home country of Britain to my wife’s, South Korea, and have in the last week or so- the last month or so really- said a lot of goodbyes. So this eloquent goodbye from the Chinese poet Wang Wei seemed quite appropriate.
A civil servant poet of the golden age of Chinese poetry, often packed off to posts in far off provinces, occasionally crossing paths with old friends and subject to the vicissitudes of what Confucious would call ‘interesting times’, Wang Wei was well accustomed to such farewells. This is just one of his many compositions on the theme of ‘goodbye’:
A good-bye Our parting in these hills is over
The sun sets and I shut my door
The Spring will be green again next year –
Will my good friend come back too?
(translated G.W. Robinson, Poems of Wang Wei, Penguin Classics, 1973)
Wang Wei was also a painter, though unfortunately none of his works survive, and there is a great visual sense in this poem. The poet has found just the right images to show a moment passing irrevocably – a sunset over hills, a shutting door.
The pang at the heart of this poem is not that the friends will not see each other for a long time, but that they may never see each other again at all; one or the other may succumb to obscurity, misfortune or death. And this finality is contrasted for good effect with the seasons, the replenishing greenness of spring with its unfailing reoccurrence.
Pretty poignant stuff really, and befittingly short – perhaps Wang Wei did not like long goodbyes…