— 辛弃疾 《西江月 · 夜行黄沙道中》To the Tune of Xī Jiānɡ Yuè by Xin QiJi
Grammatically, there is no strict tense in Chinese. Borrowing some tense structure from English, I would claim this poem an eternal present-continuous. Whenever it appears in my mind, it draws me into an evening walk with the poet. Although I am not physically there, Mr. Poet is telling me in real time what he sees, smells, feels, and hears. Now, press the play button and off we go:
Bright moon, flickering twig, magpie startled;
Chill breeze, mid-night, cicadas buzzle.
“The moon is bright, I see a twig flickering — ah, it must be a magpie startled by the moonlight. I feel a chill breeze in the middle of the night, the breeze wakes the cicadas and accompanies their buzzes. “
In the fragrance of paddy flowers, speaking of a harvest year;
Listen, a field full of frog croaks.
“You wonder: who is speaking of the coming harvest of this year? I do not know, perhaps I am walking by some villagers chatting in the field, perhaps I am talking about the harvest to someone, perhaps the fragrant paddy is telling us of its forthcoming ripe. We sit patiently, listening to the frog’s song of summer, savoring our hope for a fruitful autumn.”
Seven to eight, grains of stars, the sky beyond;
Two to three, drops of rain, the mountains in front.
“One moment, my mind flies beyond the domes of sky to the stars. The next moment, raindrops bring me back to the mountains I walk upon. One moment, the stars flicker, the next moment, the rain drizzles. So random, casual, unintentional. As I walk, I let my consciousness travel. “
The cottage of old times, by the forest it is near;
Turning at the brook’s bridge, and suddenly they appear.
“Perhaps my walk does lead to somewhere. If I recall correctly, there should be a cottage around here. I know it is built by the woods, but where is it? It must be very close….ah, here it is! A surprise amid expectation, what a pleasant encounter! “
This poem creates within my mind a flowing state of wander and relaxation; a state of extending my senses toward all nuances in my environment; a state of concentration and content with the present; a state of hopeful yet patient expectation for the future.