For Dao Yi
No, I’m not going to tell you a story à la Kafka where a human being is turned into an insect. Actually, it’s the very opposite.
In Spanish, “Formosa” means “magnificent." In the valley of butterflies, near Hualien, on the east coast of Taiwan, one can see superb species of Lepidoptera, like the swallow-tailed butterfly, with the back of its wings looking like those of a bird.
Beyond the jungle
The translucent morning light
The flight of the crane
A young boy walked across the countryside around Changhua, on the other side, on the west coast of Taiwan, where fishermen had for decades been breeding oysters. He ventured onto the fields of cotton, that most silent of plants, where he was wont to linger, listening to the strange popping noise cotton buds make as they burst open, releasing their luxurious white fluff. The experience was already discreetly leading the child to grasp the sounds of the world.
We wear the raiment of plants
The canopy’s sons
Before becoming airborne, that colourful insect we admire so much, the butterfly, experiences a simple life, devoted to digestion, adhering to the plant that nourishes it, clad in the modest casing of a caterpillar, which may be very beautiful but never leaves the horizontal universe.
Gusts of wind blow near the lighthouse at Changhua. Ensconced with their bowls of precious, fragrant tea, the poets savour the aromas while listening to their colleagues on the platform reciting poems in English, Chinese, Mongol or Spanish. This was one session of the World Poetry Congress, in which I was taking part, and the wind had invited itself along. Its cold, damp kisses clung to the multi-coloured hair of the participants. Before long, the great cape of dusk would envelop the lighthouse and the poets. Some lines by the poet Yu Hsi came to mind: “The divine heart of Buddha is reflected in the beams of the moon. The ocean waves and the wind form a symphony.”
The caterpillar is not the only creature to turn into an airborne being. The lotus too leaves behind the muddy waters of the lake and blossoms by avidly imbibing the light of the sun. For us human beings, every chrysalis is an anteroom to verticality.
A chorus of frogs
The fragrances of the marsh
Tasting of honey
I rediscovered the young dreamer I had seen strolling in the cotton fields, at Hualien, on the far side of the island, where he had become a Buddhist monk. He is now clad in the saffron robes of the sage and has dedicated his life to Guanyin, the goddess of compassion. It is she who protects with the same ardour all living beings.
Magpies and she-wolves
Endure the same pains as us
And share the same dreams
Under the guidance of these Asian luminaries, I, the blind and backward caterpillar, was setting out on what promised, if the poet Yu Hsi is to be believed, to be a long road towards a more airborne or vertical state. Just as the flower is born from the seed, so man emerges from his chrysalis. He comes into being as a caterpillar and then takes wing towards the horizons of the imaginary world, which extend farther than reason, horizons which transcend the mere meaning of words and the evidence of the five senses. Every step we take towards the stars is salutary. Such is the lesson I have drawn from the ethos of this magical island where two oceans meet and poetry and spirituality blend.
Therefore my brother poets, let us immerse ourselves, through the music of words, in existential transparency and, in the moment flowing through us, the lightness of being. With her peaceful smile, Guanyin, seated on her flower, exhorts us to do so.
White with tenderness
Rising from the murky deep
The lotus flower
Author's Note: Yu Hsi , from the poem “The Road," translated by Brian Fergusson, in Poetic Encounter, edited by Ernesto Kahan, La Jointée, Paris 2010, p 245.