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Apologue of the Three Vinegar-Tasters

ISSUE:  Autumn 1937

In the temple yard knelt to discuss a problem hard Confucius, by a jar of azure cloisonne where flowers in pleasure danced alway.
By a porcelain bowl,
Gotama, candid and calm of soul, sat looking splendid as if he were made for eternity: a statue of jade and apathy.
Under a clump of dry bamboo, frog in a hump, squatted Lao Tzu in beggar tatters, by a pot of clay … and he smiled at matters beyond today-Each great sage was to taste and test as beverage of the Emperor’s best vinegar, and to pronounce what its merits were and the price per ounce.
Confucius tried with his lac-rosed nail,
and his mouth was wried and his gold skin pale:
O, sour and sour as impropriety!
Unfit for the flower of our society!
The Buddha’s hand wore the Wheel of the Law;
it was nobly grand as a lion’s paw.
He took a taste: It is bitter as bitter
as life.
It’s a waste not to make it sweeter.
But the Old Boy sipped his pot to the dregs
and smiling-lipped, with tickle-legs,
he said: It is sweet as sweet as life,
as the three-inch feet of my Wu-Wei wife.

O, sweet and sweeter as life grows too! Is yours sour and bitter? The taste is you! Then he whistled a crane and flew from the yard, leaving the twain there thinking hard.


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Reynold Weissinger's picture
Reynold Weissinger · 7 years ago

I first read Rilke in a dual language translation by C.F MacIntyre. The book is mislaid so I googled the poem I wanted, Ernste Stunde or Solemn Moment in translation. I thought, naturally, I would find C.F. MacIntyre's translation. I did not. What I found, repeatedly, was a limp, mangled version that contained none of the compelling movement of the MacIntyre.There is simply no comparison. Well, for me, I'll just go find the book. I hope you will too. My poor memory. This is what I retained:

                                                        Solemn Moment

Who now goes, anywhere in the world

without cause goes in the world

goes to me.

Who now laughs any where in the world

without cause laughs in the world

Laughs at me.

Who now weeps anywhere in the world

without cause weeps in the world

weeps over me.

Who now dies in the world

without cause dies in the world

Looks at me.

When I read these fine poems I could not but wonder if this gifted poet has also been mislaid. I've never seen him in any anthology of poetry. But delighted to find him here.



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