From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (18)—Chiseled in Stone

[a] Stone  RF
So a youngish chap gets into a fight with his significant other. There are words...and tears. He heads off to the bar, feeling sorry for himself. Well, that ain't nothin' says the old man sitting next to him. You don't know nothin' about misery...until it's chiseled in stone. The message is about as direct as they come, and the sentiment is one that weaves its way in and out of country music lyrics.

It doesn't hurt that Vern Gosdin has one of the best voices ever to waft through Nashville recording studios. The harsh, cold message is delivered with mellifluous sadness that can haunt the lover of lyrics and narratives. You have probably noticed that there is a glimmer of happiness in this otherwise miserable ode—through the lessons of one person's misery comes hope for another. None of that changes the drumbeat of country misery, though. Although the message might have rays of hope, this is not likely to be played at weddings anytime soon.

         Chiseled in Stone
             Vern Gosdin
 (Max Barnes, Vern Gosdin) 
[b] Chiseled  RF
You ran crying to the bedroom, I ran off to the bar
Another piece of Heaven gone to Hell
The words we spoke in anger just tore my world apart
And I sat there feeling sorry for myself

Then that old man sat down beside me and looked me in the eye
And he said, "Son, I know what you’re going through"
You ought to get down on your knees and thank your lucky stars
That you got some one to go home to

You don’t know about lonely or how long the nights can be
Till you’ve lived through the stories that still living in me
You don’t know about sadness till you've faced life alone
You don’t know about lonely till it's chiseled in stone

So, I brought these pretty flowers hoping you would understand
Sometimes a man is such a fool
Those golden words of wisdom from the heart of that old man
Showed me I ain’t nothing without you

Repeat Chorus

An interesting array of possibilities abound in the Chinese poetic tradition. A one-to-one correspondence would probably not be possible, in any case, but various strains of the message can be found throughout the pages of Tang dynasty poetry and Song dynasty lyrics. I have chosen one with only a glimpse of the country theme. It is a lyric written by one of the greatest statesmen in Chinese history, and one about whom I have written already on Round and Square. It addresses loss in a very different way from the lines above, but in a way that provides an exquisite juxtaposition of themes.

       Plum Blossoms on Solitary Hill
       Wang Anshi (1021-1085)
[c] Solitary RF
          What shall I compare them to—
               these plum blossoms on Solitary Hill?
          Halfway between flowering and fading
               in the midst of thorns!
          A fairest woman
               leaning against briers and trees;
          A despondent statesman
               abiding in the weeds.
          Stark straight, their lone loveliness
               carries the winter sun;
          still, soundless, their fragrance form afar
               trails the wild wind.
          Too late for transplanting,
               their roots grow old;
          They glance back at the Imperial Park,
               their colors drained.[1]

[1] Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), 337.

Liu, Wu-chi and Irving Yucheng Lo. Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.

Sunday, September 4th
Two Doors Down
Dwight Yoakam will tell us next week about a barstool of memory...two doors down.

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