You, because you love me,
- Anonymous, Ancient Sumerian poem circa 2000 B.C.
© Mabelle Sawan 2018
The earliest forms of writing discovered are four-thousand-year-old Sumerian tablets. They are comprised of administrative records, and the world’s oldest love poem:
Bridegroom, dear to my heart; goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.
Lion, dear to my heart; Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.
The records are outdated, irrelevant. The content of the poem is not. Passion has not changed in four thousand years, just those who have experienced it. The bride, whose name history has forgotten, and her lover, King Shu-Sin of Sumeria. Any two people who have ever been in love at any point in time and place.
The very first agricultural societies recited poetry. The Babylonians, the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Mahabarata further East. The Ramayana of Hindu and Buddhist mythology, the Iliad and Odyssey of Ancient Greece. Persia’s Shahnameh, China’s Shijing. Qasa’id, sonnets, rhymes, hymns.
In five lines: Sixth century ghazal by an Arab sha’ir; one who feels. In four: Cambodian Pathya Vat, to express anger and grief. In three lines: Japanese haiku, capturing the essence of a moment. In two lines: an Afghan landay, an oral form of social rebellion.
In one line:
I love you.
I am sorry.
In one word:
The words, the language, the verses may vary. The experience – human - is the same. We feel, we are. Beyond that awareness, there is no purpose to poetry.
A poem will not advance knowledge, impart information, share news. That is the role of prose, like walking. Poetry, then, is dance.[i] It goes nowhere and does not seek to. Twirls and sways, in rhythm, in place. It is and will always be in the present, will outlive the person who wrote it, and in ten, a hundred, a thousand years, touch the stranger who will read it.
And so, for the stranger who slipped short poems on coloured paper in every book, in the literary fiction corner, K to N section, in an independent bookstore in Cambridge,
For Porcelain Nocturne,[ii] which I read in the café next door over ginger lemon tea:
Here, it always rains. No matter. We share an umbrella,
the branches of a tree, the light from the moon. Imagine
For Tangerine Trees & Little Bags of Sugar,[iii] read on the train ride home, over the bridge:
How he saved for a plot of land & the tangerines were good – so good.
For beware the feather boas:[iv]
my hair is a cloak room, come hide with me.
Under the covers, by the faint city light sifting through the window and the curtains open over my head.
For a purposeless, useless thing to do: slipping poems into a book. For turning my evening to a dance. For making me feel, stranger,
[i] From Paul Valéry
[ii] By William Fargason
[iii] By Su Cho
[iv] By Panika M. C. Dillon