A Timeless Verse with Dr. Mengwen Zhu and Professor Hamid Masfour
Our topic today is likely one of the most complex ones on “Conversations with Mother Earth” – at least so far. I refer to poetry.
Let’s start with some history. The word poetry is derived from Greek, poises, but the earliest written poems were composed in Sumerian which was spoken in today’s Iraq. We may remember from school days the Epic of Gilgamesh. Egypt, Greece, Israel, India, the Roman Empire all contributed greatly to the field of poetry. Not to forget the later works of Dante, Shakespeare, or Lord Byron. The list is very long and many poets have influenced our lives. And, as we discussed in our second episode with the bestselling author Yejide Kilanko, some of the oldest verses were not ever even written down.
Hence, I had what Germans call “Die Qual der Wahl” which translates into the “The agony of choice”. Which focus should I choose in this vast and endless sea of verses?
I have decided to focus on Chinese and Arabic poetry for two reasons. They are some of the oldest poetry cultures on our planet. Secondly, some verses are so timeless – like Rumi’s – that we still enjoy them today, 800 years later!
My two guests today are both scholars of Literature. This is where their similarity ends. Dr. Mengwen Zhu is a Junior Fellow within the “Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts” at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTECH) in Shenzhen, China, while Professor Hamid Masfour is an Associate Professor of English Literature and Cultural Studies at Sultan Moulay Sliman University, Beni-Mellal, in Morocco.
We discuss the connection between poetry and philosophy, what defines poetry and what differentiates it from prosa and why poetry is a necessity. We talk about two societies where poetry thrived and how poetry and Mother Earth are linked. We finish with our favourite poems. I opted for the most famous Chinese poet Li Bai and his poem “Thoughts on a Tranquil Night”.
Before my bed a pool of light –
O can it be frost on the ground?
Looking up, I find the moon bright;
Bowing, in homesickness I am drowned.
From “Tang Poetry in Paintings”, translated by Xu Yuanchong
We invite you to join us and take some time to explore A Timeless Verse.
I Died by Jalal Addin Rumi
I died to the mineral state and became a plant,
I died to the vegetal state and reached animality,
I died to the animal state and became a man,
Then what should I fear? I have never become less from dying.
At the next charge (forward) I will die to human nature,
So that I may lift up (my) head and wings (and soar) among the angels,
And I must (also) jump from the river of (the state of) the angel,
Everything perishes except His Face,
Once again I will become sacrificed from (the state of) the angel,
I will become that which cannot come into the imagination,
Then I will become non-existent; non-existence says to me (in tones) like an organ,
Truly , to Him, our return
THE PAINTED ZITHER by LI Shangyin trans. Mengwen ZHU
The painted zither, for no reason, fifty strings.
Each string, each fret, recalls a blooming year.
Master Zhuang’s dawn dream — a butterfly lost.
Emperor Wang’s spring love — a cuckoo found.
The indigo sea — moonshine, tears fall from a pearl.
The blue mountain, sun-bathed, smoke rises in jade.
How could one wait to remember this feeling,
When at the time he was already bewildered?
Chinese Original: 锦瑟 李商隐 (ca. 813–ca. 858)