Tuesday, January 21, 2014


By the southern woods I have built my hut;
I drop my hook from the north lake banks.
Sporting birds dive when I draw near;
Green duckweed sinks below my diving boat.
The quivering reeds reveal the fish below;
By the length of my line I know the bottom's depth.
With vain sighs I dangle the tempting bait;
And watch the spectacle of avaricious hearts.

Note: This poem, entitled "Ki no Suemochi" or "Watching Fish In The Water," is included in Donald Keene's wonderful Anthology of Japanese Literature.  It dates from the early eighth century and was originally included in the "Kaifūsō" or "Fond Recollections of Poetry," the first collection of poetry in Chinese written by Japanese, which was compiled in 751.  " Kaifūsō" includes works by high-born Japanese writers, including emperors.  It sounds clichéd, but like so much in Keene's anthology, although the poem was written long ago and far away, it seems utterly contemporary, real and recognizable. 

Reading it I was reminded of some pictures of Harlequin ducks I saw a few days ago when they were featured as "bird of the week" on the American Bird Conservancy's Bird News Network.  Harlequin ducks are somewhat unusual in that they both dabble (i.e., feed on the surface) and dive for their food.  They're wonderful creatures.  I could watch ducks forever.

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