New Poems from The I Ching
By Ellery Littleton. Ellery's next writing program at The Haven is From Memory to Memoir, October 16–18, 2015
In 1993, I published my first book of poetry – “Old Rocks, New Streams” – 64 Poems from the I Ching. I had been fascinated by the I Ching for a long time, and decided to write one poem for each of the 64 hexagrams, attempting to capture in a few images the essential meaning of each.
The I Ching is probably the oldest book in existence. Also known as The Book of Changes, it has served as a source of divination for the Chinese for more than 3,000 years. It provides a system of knowledge to help one analyze and understand the pattern of events and changes in life. Through the hexagrams, the authors constructed a method to aid in unlocking the secrets of the future and determining the surest way to live in harmony with prevailing circumstances.
I have often regretted that there are only 64 hexagrams in the I Ching, and wished there were more. So recently, I decided to write some more poems from the I Ching, based on my own fanciful extension of the original concept. This new set of poems is very different from the originals in that they are drawn from my imagination and not based on any traditional symbols or traditions. My intention is to write another 64 poems, perhaps resulting in another book eventually. I am about a third of the way there, and enjoying the process immensely. Writing poetry is one of the great pleasures of life (my life, anyway) and I am happier when I have some new ones on the go.
I offer three of these new poems here, in the hope that they may ring a few bells of recognition, or at least bring some passing pleasure to those who enjoy reading poetry from time to time, or to those who have enjoyed and appreciated the I Ching.
Fool Over Sage
Birth … the ultimate word of beginnings.
Happy birthday baby! I brought an angel
food cake as soft as a cloud and I’m wearing
my best pink and wrinkly suit with the birth
mark and a tiny red rose on the lapel.
And, of course, I have a gift for you,
a little something for the windowsill,
a miniature carved samsara ferris wheel
to add to your collection of spiritual
tchotchkes and fandangles …
I picked it up in India with you in mind.
We are here to celebrate what exactly?
Why the passing of years, my dear,
the passing of torches, of wind, of fancies,
of each other in the left land of the karma
turnpike, of ships in the night, of hopes,
expectations and illusions.
We’re celebrating the passing of yet another
old/new year … funny … I’m feeling a tad blue
all of a sudden … never mind … let’s cut to
the cake … we won’t get fooled again …
THE FAMILY PORTRAIT
Stepping Over Stones
The old photo album …
Blow the dust off … let’s see …
is that Dad in the white bathing suit?
Wow … was he skinny … there’s grandma
and grampa, before I was born. They look
so young … everybody in black and white …
Faded polaroid moments begin to appear ...
… there I am … and there you are.
Oh look! Here’s the family portrait.
Mom arranged to have it taken … I was
about ten. Remember the old house?
You can see the big maple tree in
the background. We’re all out on
the front lawn … there’s Dad in the back,
barely in focus. He was so restless.
Auntie Jo called him “The Blur”, and so
he was, in many family photos.
Mom looks beautiful and sad …
I loved that floral dress …
she so wanted to hold onto Dad,
but he always slipped away.
There you are again, pulling a face,
not fully in the family, even then.
And Beth’s sitting on Mom’s lap,
seemingly without a care.
If only we could have known …
And I’m right in the middle, of course,
staring into the camera … yearning for
something … wishing for everything.
I’ve got my arms around our old dog
Maggie … I cried for days when she died.
Darkness Over Light
I invite my shadow to come into the light
as my life-long companion, grasping, gloating,
hating, passing judgment.
Spiteful, scornful and bitchy,
laying blame, knowing that things
would be better if only
you were different.
Taking rather than giving …
watching people fall on their faces,
holier-than-thou, full of good advice
calculated to sabotage.
Sweet and tangy, powerful and
potent, lighter than air, warming
people’s cockles, adding spices
and sauces to the stir-fry, blowing
the occasional mind, playing the fool,
falling in love, falling in lust, sashaying
around, in trouble again.
Straight, silent and strong,
speaking directly from the body,
swimming in the icy river, sleeping
in the afternoon sun, wide awake
under the stars.
I invite my shadow to come into the light
as my lifelong companion, my guide through
the valley of the shadow, my mysterious twin,
my reprehensible self.
Ellery Littleton’s next writing program at The Haven is From Memory to Memoir, October 16–18, 2015. His book of poems from the I Ching, “Old Rocks, New Streams,” was reviewed in the Toronto magazine “Eye for the Future,” and included the following comment: “Ellery Littleton’s elegantly presented book of poems is a rare treasure in the world of poetry. He successfully translates not only the philosophical framework, but the true heart of the intuitive and feeling nature of the I Ching. His book glows softly with the clarity and depth of this ancient way of understanding.” “Old Rocks, New Streams” is available in The Haven store.