Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Something to think about

It always surprises me, I don't know why, when I find that some current attitudes have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Consider these two poems, one by Po Chu-i (772-846), and one by Su Tung-p'o (1036-1101).

Remembering Golden Bells

Ruined and ill,--a man of two score;
Pretty and guileless, --a girl of three.
Not a boy,--but still better than nothing:
To soothe one's feeling,--from time to time a kiss!
There came a day,--they suddenly took her from me;
Her soul's shadow wandered I know not where.
And when I remembered how just at the time she died
She lisped strange sounds, beginning to learn to talk,
Then I know that the ties of flesh and blood
Only bind us to a load of grief and sorrow.
At last, by thinking of the time before she was born,
By thought and reason I drove the pain away.
Since my heart forgot her, many days have passed
And three times winter has changed to spring.
This morning, for a little, the old grief came back,
Because, in the road, I met her foster-nurse.

-- Po Chu-i (772-846) --
trans. by Arthur Waley

The third line reminded me of an article I had read just recently about a potentially serious problem in China. Because of the stringent birth laws (one child per family), many families will kill female babies because they prefer to have a male child. A male child will be able to provide some support when they are no longer able to work, whereas a female child will marry into the husband's family, who will support his parents. There is a concern that this will translate into a severe imbalance in the near future, with males being in greater numbers than females. This will make it more difficult for males to set up their own households.

This father has a interesting philosophy regarding his son and his hopes for the boy's future.

On The Birth of His Son

Families, when a child is born
Want it to be intelligent.
I, through intelligence,
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he will crown a tranquil life
By becoming a Cabinet Minister.

-- Su Tung-p'o (1036-1101) --
trans. by Arthur Waley

This poem needs no comments from me.

Both poems come from
The World's Best Poems
Mark van Doren and Garibaldi M. Lapolla, ed.

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