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《Lessons for Elementary School (13)》__ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Distance and Feelings

“Grandpa, when do birds sing the loudest?”

“I guess it would be in spring?”

“I mean what time of day, Grandpa.”

“It would be at dawn.”

“I’ll ask one more question, Grandpa. What can eliminate distance?”

“I would say a train or an airplane.”

“You are right. But you are not answering my question.”

“What is your answer?”

“It is our feelings.”

“Well, tell me about it.”

“We learned two poems today. The first is by Meng Hauran of the Tang Dynasty, some 1300 years ago. Here it is:
‘I lie in bed in spring unaware of dawn/ Everywhere birds chirp loudly to warn/ After a night’s wind and showers/ who cares for the fallen flowers’
It is so beautiful.”

“Yes, it is. I know it by heart too. What is the second poem?”

“The second poem is by Wang Bo, in the same dynasty. It is more complicated. But, Mr. Shaw told us that he heard President Ronald Reagan quoted it in his speech, when he was visiting China in the spring of 1984.”

“That is indeed interesting. I did not know Mr. Reagan knew Chinese.”

“No, he did not. He quoted the English translation of it; and only two lines. Here, I copied them down:
If you’ve a friend who knows your heart/ Distance can’t keep you two apart’.
Mr. Shaw told us that President Reagan was very fond of literature, and he could make very powerful speeches by quoting all kinds of poems. On that occasion when he was meeting many of China’s new leaders, he wanted to generate a better relationship with China. He used the spirit in the poem to invite the new leaders to be good friends, even when China and America are separated by the huge distance of the Pacific Ocean.”

“That was nice of him.” Grandpa reacts joyfully. He further continues: “The original poem was simple, using five Chinese words for each of the two lines. Mr. Reagan’s quotation seems a bit clumsy. Nevertheless, I admire his good wishes and skills.”

“Grandpa, you sound like Mr. Shaw. He gave us his translation of the same poem. I copied it down too. Here it is, using ten words in two lines:
‘As faithful friends from overseas/ We are neighbors despite distances’
I like this translation better. It is simple and easy to understand. It is also pleasing to sing and remember.”

“That is wonderful!” Grandpa says loud in excitement. He continues: “Mr. Shaw is not only an excellent teacher, but also a super translator.”

“Well, he was very humble about it. He explained to us that many of the Chinese poem translations were done by foreigners. Although they spent many years to learn the Chinese language and culture, they could only touch skim the surface. The Chinese language was created with a lot of wisdom. Every single word carries two or three or more meanings, which relate to aspects of life over thousands of years. That is why Chinese poems are so beautiful and spiritually rich. Grandpa, can you tell me what that means?”

“I can try, dear. But Mr. Shaw knows more. I guess spirit is what you feel in your heart and soul. Feelings can be love or hate, caring or neglect, sad or joyful, regret or aspiration, empty or full, poor or rich, ugly or beautiful, worldly or sublime. I read a newspaper report some years ago. It said that there were 50,000 poems by some 3000 poets in the Tang Dynasty. They were contained in two published books. You can imagine how spiritually rich these poems must be.”

“Mr. Shaw told us something like that too. He also said that poems are powerful. Like rockets or needles.”

“That is interesting. We all know rockets can soar up into space in seconds. But, how are needles powerful?”

“Grandpa, you are good in guessing. I’ll give you two more tries.”

“Well, I can say that needles can give you pain. On the other hand, they can cure many illnesses in acupuncture.”

“Grandpa, you are so resourceful. Mr. Shaw said needles could inject medicine into a patient’s body to cure his illness. It is the finest invention in Western medicine. I don’t know how acupuncture works. But, I’ve seen how it relieved my Mom’s headache.”

“Can we go back to what Mr. Shaw said about poems eliminating distance?”

“We surely can. Mr. Shaw also said that Chinese poets love to use the moon to connect people living far apart, because no matter where they live, when they watch the moon. It shines on them equally at the same time.”

“I can sing you many poems about the moon. The simplest is by Zhang Jiu Ling, also of the Tang Dynasty. The beginning couplet reads:
‘The moon floods her brilliance over the ocean face/ A moment shared by people in all places’.”

“That is beautiful!” Nancy applauds as she continues “I shall share it with my friends tomorrow.”

“Maybe you would like to have this one from Li Bai too? I learned it when I was your age. Here it is:
‘Moonlight floods the floor near my bed/ Could it be frost that had spread/ Lifting my head I see the moon’s smile/ Lowering it I yearn to be home tonight’

“That poem is about distance and feeling too, Grandpa. I’ll be the proudest person tomorrow when I read it out in class.”

“I bet you will be praised by Mr. Shaw too.”

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