Chinese New Year is here. Everywhere I go in Cupertino I can see the signs. The nail shop had a lovely tree with yellow flowers and red & gold paper money envelopes hanging all over it. There were gorgeous yellow chrysanthemums* in pots decorated with red and gold bows. My realtor sent us a shiny gold envelope, decorated with red Chinese calligraphy, containing a crisp single dollar bill. She wishes us Gung Hay Fat Choy!
There are many many people in Cupertino who can tell you more about this holiday than I can; I’m not an expert, not even a little bit knowledgeable. I know that I was born in the year of the rat, and furthermore that I’m a metal rat (1960). Anyone born this year will be born in the year of the wood horse (2014). I’m not a great believer in astrology, but I love symbol and image, I love tradition and color and storytelling and celebrations. So, to celebrate Chinese New Year, I’m going to write a poem to a horse.
There are many poems in English about horses.
- This one, “Horse Horse Hyphen Hyphen” by Marilyn Chin (a Chinese American poet from Hong Kong and Portland OR), speaks wildly about Chinese zodiac, custom, sex, disappointment and family.
- There is an entire genre of “horse haiku” written by horseback riding enthusiasts — most of it not great haiku and not remotely Japanese.
- This 2008 essay “Horses and Poetry” discusses poetry about horses and includes a lovely Chinese painting with poem from the Tang Dynasty.
- This site presents wonderful translations of multiple Chinese poets into English by the great and wonderful Kenneth Rexroth. I particularly like “Jade Flower Palace” by Tu Fu, which includes this image:
A stone horse is left of his
So, your challenge this month is to write a poem about a horse, or if you’re feeling energetic, to look up your Chinese zodiac sign and write about that. Have fun. And I wish you health, happiness, success and good fortune in the new year.
*The chrysanthemum is one of the “Four Gentlemen” (四君子) of China (the others being the plum blossom, the orchid, and bamboo). The chrysanthemum is said to have been favored by Tao Qian, an influential Chinese poet, and is symbolic of nobility. It is also one of the four symbolic seasonal flowers. (Quoted from Wikipedia. Please comment if you know more about this, or if it is incorrect.)