Back Door Side Door Front Door: Which Door might a Confucian take?


Back Door   Side Door  Front Door :
    Which door might a Confucian take ?
 
                   for René Etiemble  (Jan. 26, 1909 – Jan. 2002)*
 
 Barely a few speechless moments before your first words
           burned the « Coplas por la muerte de su padre » :
            
            ‘Nuestras vidas son los ríos       
       que van a dar en la mar,
       que es el morir ;
      ………………………………
       y llegados, son iguales
       los que viven por sus manos         
       y los ricos.’
 
      Is the open back door which emboldens courage
No untarnished name to be remembered by
No selfless mate to lay by your honour
       No issue laying about themselves for your prize
 
       Decidedly it was a door of stealth
As if choosing it  you let it be known
you were only merely passing by
       and stopped to hang your hat here for a while
 
Yet you let your kin and callers believe
      your whims were worth putting up with
      your mischievous tantrums and gripes
merely the mental athlete’s unwinding antics
 
The poïetic birth pangs of imminent glory
      just the mounting stones in the monumental lighthouse
that ages from hence would pick forth
      your works  your unfathomable literary resource
 
You upheld dozens who did leave behind a name
     a lasting name  not quite torn from solitary pain
Yet who could deny you could have bettered their fame 
     What undisclosed pain you harboured in your brain
 
Oh so strangely were you endowed with the intelligence
     of the Chun Tzu – that uncanny eagle’s scan
To rout out of the mazes of your students’ past lives
      just that one passqge through their Tierra del Fuego
 
But then you who completely espoused the rigours
      of that step by step mounting of respectful steps
Were unsparing in your demands of adherence
      to old Master Kung’s hierarchical obedience
 
An open hand ready to sign any cheque
      to succour the caller’s needs
     was alas ! also the whip hand
To keep the renegades in constant check
 
You were possessed of a rare brand of anger
      which shook the land about you
At those who bent justice to their unsavoury will        
      such thunder boiled from the guts of the earth
 
Now you’re gone and empty lecture halls echo your
     uncontainable ire where forged resounding silence
You said at the start of a seminal master-seminar :
     « Nul n’est prophète dans son pays ! »        
 
With the distaff side hanging on your every word
     wondering if your plans were for something yet undone
 
No stray notes lie about to record your travail
     No visible correspondence to make it all credible
Only books and books  files magazines and books
     and an overcrowdedly conquered mental pad                                    
jumbled words scratched into shaded inchoate sketches
     ganglia synapses   shot-up neurons
 
     no clues to a ragingly flailing mind
           none to record the lives you succoured
                   nor even the beneficiaries’ hurriedly scribbled thanks
          nor besides to the beclouding relations with one and all
                 not even a hint at why you may have refused
                        to forge a name beyond the beaten path of fame
 
Would going by the front door
in a fanfare of tv talkshows conference papers prize-giving ceremonies paper- interviews in ample studied poses and thoughts for future auto-memoirs volume one to seven the rest put-together posthumously in an omnibus
expurgated version with prefaces notes introductions critiques eulogies
 
          would it have been less like you
                                          to exit by the side-door   
the baywindow leading to reflected glory
     in a cool cloister of loosened leaves
stray poems in the tradition of your schooled masters
 
or did you burn them all
                                                in a fit of (cou)rage
     tore them to bits   incinerated by your fiery mind 
                     or squashed within yesterday’s leftovers
 
not caring who thought what
                     the mocking condescension
                       towards
 qu’en-dira-t-on
 
 
* The late Professor René Etiemble held the Chair of Comparative Literature at the old, pre-1968 Sorbonne University but retired in 1978 while a professor at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University. In later life, he even refused nomination to the French Academy of Letters, though he did accept the Academy’s Prize. He was a prolific critic, essayist, and memorialist, having published some poetry and three novels. A renowned linguist and grammarian (a graduate of the prestigious and elite Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris), he remained until his very last days an inveterate Sinophile. He edited the Gallimard-instituted UNESCO oriental literary classics series, a fitting tribute to his encyclopaedic learning.
 
© T.Wignesan,  6 novembre 1997, Fresnes-94, France  (from the collection : Poems Omega Minus, Paris, 2002)
 
 

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