putting the corpse
of loneliness around my neck
into the darkness
of a spring day
Back Cover Tanka, Ribbons, 6:3, Fall 2010
"In 1798, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge co-published a ground breaking collection of poems they called Lyrical Ballads, and thereby ushered in the Romantic movement in English literature. Among the poems in their volume, the longest and most important that Coleridge contributed was "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." In his a-b-c-b narrative masterpiece, Coleridge writes of a sailor who, for no apparent reason, shoots and kills the albatross that has been following his ship. His wanton act results in a curse upon the ship and its crew, plunging it into disaster and suffering. His crewmates tie the dead albatross around his neck as punishment and in the vain hope that it might somehow alleviate their agonies. After the entire crew dies, and only the guilty Mariner is left, he survives only to be condemned to wander the earth forever, seeking out others to whom he must tell his tale.
In a vivid flash of five lines, Liu’s poem brings the famous Coleridge work immediately to mind. In the tanka, the concrete is replaced with the abstract, but it is an abstraction given power and life by use of the corpse metaphor. Loneliness, is an abstraction given power and life by use of the corpse metaphor. Loneliness, especially intense loneliness, often does feel like a form of death in life, and Liu’s opening lines prepare the reader for the last two. Spring, typically associated with rebirth, sunlight, and joy, here takes on the opposite qualities with the simple alliterative combination of “darkness” and “spring day.” The persona doesn’t step into this ominous day, but jumps, as if jumping off a ledge into an unknown and dangerous abyss.
The simple structure of this tanka, in which two pairs of disturbing lines are separated by the minimal noun/verb phrase, defies analysis. There is no complex assonance, no ornate symmetry or repetitive tones; the poem seems to draw its power from the barest presentation of image and action. However, once read, it is not easy to forget, so searing it.
Has Liu read the Coleridge poem? Perhaps, perhaps not. Art dips into the universal consciousness of the human mind. It is no surprise, then, if two poets separated by two centuries dip in and come back with remarkably similar images. "
-- Review written by Ribbons editor Dave Bacharach (p. 1)
Loneliness, is an abstraction given power and life by use of the corpse metaphor. Loneliness, especially intense loneliness, often does feel like a form of death in life, and Liu’s opening lines prepare the reader for the last two. Spring, typically associated with rebirth, sunlight, and joy, here takes on the opposite qualities with the simple alliterative combination of “darkness” and “spring day.”
In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Coleridge constantly uses personification and repetition to create a sense of danger, the supernatural, or serenity, depending mainly on the mood in different parts of the poem. Like him, I use the same narrative technique, personification.
In Part III of the poem, the ship encounters a ghostly vessel. On board are Death (a skeleton) and the "Night-mare Life-in-Death" (a pale woman). They play dice for the souls of the crew, and the result is that Death wins the lives of the crew members and Life-in-Death the life of the Mariner. Her metaphoric name provides a clue to the Mariner's fate: he will endure a fate worse than death as punishment for his killing of the black albatross. This is the main reason for my use of “the darkness/ of a spring day.”