Saturday, September 10, 2022

Poetic Musings: Moon Festival by Chen-ou Liu

Moon Festival
alone, I whisper to myself
in my mother tongue

Sketchbook, 6:5, September/October 2011

Commentary (by Sketchbook Editor, John Daleiden): "Moon Festival" is an ancient Chinese cultural event occurring on the 15th of the 8th lunar month; the festival is a millennium-old festival, dating back to 2000 years ago. Different regions or groups of people have different ways to celebrate the festival. Generally speaking, it is mainly a night for family sharing time. Today, it is celebrated sometime between the second week of September and the first week of October. Chinese culture is deeply imbedded in traditional festivals; in the West traditions like Thanksgiving and Christmas are culturally similar in tenor to Eastern traditions like the Moon Festival. The celebration has many aspects. It is a very poetic and elegant celebration—people place ornaments and offerings next to windows, on verandas, and in other places where the moon can be seen in conjunction with items like vases filled with pampas grass and autumnal herbs—people prepare seasonal foods like dumplings, pears, persimmons, and grapes. Moon Festival is an occasion for family reunions, similar to the family events associated with an American (Western) Thanksgiving and / or Christmas. When the full moon rises, families get together to watch the full moon, eat moon cakes and sing moon poems (World Haiku DataBase).

The kigo, “Moon Festival” is laden with cultural meaning—and much of that meaning may be obscure to readers unfamiliar with Chinese traditions. In Chen-ou Liu’s haiku the kigo “Moon Festival” is a simplistic statement with a rich cultural message; that message is one of the advantages of haijian who use kigo. The kigo found in a saijiki have been selected because they, in a word or two, express volumes of meaning. In her World Haiku Data Base Dr. Gabi Greve has collected the information above about “Moon Festival”. …And in employing this kigo Chen-ou Liu is expressing the sentiments in a millennium of Chinese cultural custom. In the world of haiku, kigo carries out a rhetorical function that Western writers call understatement—a figure of speech in which a writer / speaker deliberately makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is. The direct and denotative kigo statement, “Moon Festival”, shows restraint and a lack of emphasis, when in point of fact the phrase is an understatement that really conveys a host of implied and connotative details expressed in the previous paragraph. The kigo is the most important element in this haiku and it is balanced against the second most important element, the word “alone”. In this haiku the narrator finds himself in a painful situation on this family occasion—he is “alone”, isolated from the meaningful events and occasions of his past. These two elements of this haiku offer a contrast of the past with the present—and the two situations are painfully different. Through understatement Chen-ou Liu displays a severe contrast between the descriptive details of what usually takes place during a “Moon Festival” and what in reality is taking place for the narrator on this particular “Moon Festival”—he is alone. His subsequent action: “I whisper to myself / in my mother tongue” is a second understated event. He “whispers” and his chosen expression is “in my mother tongue” a language he probably no longer uses for daily communication, having had to learn a new language because the environment in which he lives does not use his “mother tongue” for communication. This haiku uses simple language embedded in a complex structure; this haiku is a memorable example of restraint in artistic expression. Through understatement the reader comes to comprehend what is not being said directly and understands the pain the narrator is experiencing.

Note: Below is a relevant excerpt from  "Featured Poet: An Evaluation and Introspective Look at the Haiku of Chen-ou Liu by Robert D. Wilson" (Simply Haiku, Autumn 2010):

... The first poem I ever memorized was [Li Po's] “Thoughts in Night Quiet,” the best known of all Chinese poems, especially among Chinese living overseas:

Seeing moonlight here at my bed,
and thinking it's frost on the ground,

I look up, gaze at the mountain moon,
then back, dreaming of my old home.

-- translated by David Hinton

When I was six, my father recited this poem to me with watery eyes. At that time, he hadn’t seen his family for two decades since he came to Taiwan in 1949, with the defeated Chinese Nationalist Army. I memorized the poem and didn’t fully reflect upon its meaning in my heart and mind. Little was understood about the suffering endured by my father and his generation due to the Chinese Civil War. It was not until the seventh year since I emigrated to Canada that I’d experienced this pang of nostalgic longing explored in Li’s poem through the moon imagery – a symbol of distance and family reunion – portrayed in simple and evocative language. Since then, every time when I thought of my parents, my family, and my hometown, I recited “Thoughts in Night Quiet,” which is not only Li’s poem but also mine...

To conclude today's post, I would like to share with you the following tanka:

written both for the Chinese Moon Festival
and in response to Haruki Murakami's remark: All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence

alone again
in this Land of Maple Leaf
with a slice of mooncake
I drink Pinot Noir, dwelling
in nostalgic silence

FYI: Michelin Guide, August 28, 2019: "How To Pair Wine With Mooncakes," 

No comments:

Post a Comment