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It is said that the great Chinese poet Li Bai/Po was once on a boat in the middle of the lake and he saw the reflection of the moon dancing on the water. Filled with feelings beyond our comprehension, the great poet leant over the side of the boat to kiss the moon and fell in and drowned.

Poetry, historically, plays a very important role in Asian culture. Whilst we, in the West, see poetry as a high art form, as it is now also considered in Asia, historically poetry was considered part of every day life. In the memoir As I Crossed A Bridge Of Dreams, the author, known as Lady Sarashina although her real identity is not known, who was writing in the 11th Century shows how people would communicate via poems. For example, she would send a message to her friend in the form of a short poem. Her friend would then reply in the form of a poem.

Whilst the poems were not very good, they managed to do what was intended, and that was to convey emotion. The problem with poetry is that it is open to interpretation with many people understanding it in their own personal way (subjective) but the form which was used by Lady Sarashina would convey a very simple message and emotion:

‘Had I not stayed awake this night,

When should I have seen the moon-

This autumn moon that lights Kuroto Beach?’

In this poem we can see that Lady Sarashina could not sleep at night and, instead of sleeping, had looked at the moon and been filled with a form of happiness.

An example of the communication can be seen in the following passage:

On the seventh day of the Seventh month I found a happy means to send my word

This is the night when in the ancient Past,

The Herder Star embarked to meet the Weaving One;

In its sweet remembrance the wave rises high in the River of Heaven.

Even so swells my heart to see the famous book.

The answer was:

The star gods meet on the shore of the Heavenly River,

Like theirs full of ecstasy is my heart

And grave things of daily life are forgotten

On the night your message comes to me.’

Here we have an example of Lady Sarashina experiencing something and then communicating it, via poetry, to her friend who then replies in turn. Whilst we cannot understand exactly what was meant we can see that Lady Sarashina saw a book (written by Li Bai/Po) and felt a profound feeling to see it.

Her friend understood what was being said and returned the message in kind. Our lack of understanding can come from cultural differences and also more substantive differences, namely economics.

We, here in the West, have been more affluent than Asia as a whole and thusly maybe we have not developed in the same manner as Lady Sarashina or Li Bai/Po.  

In its historic poverty Asia learnt to look at the world and see the smallest thing as beautiful and write poems to express the beauty. Asian poetry has had a massive influence on Western literature in teaching Westerners to stop and smell the flowers and see the beauty in daily life, to see the beauty in the Asian soul.

Quotations taken from As I Crossed A Bridge Of Dreams

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