Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006).



He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.



Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His most recent book of poems (in Dutch) is Deze poelen, deze geest (2008). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog.



After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. He sings in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.



Monday, February 7, 2011

Eight Tai Chi Poems

(1) The Stork Spreads its Wings (白鶴亮翅)

I asked my body how to be
a bird: highest flier,
freest of all those still
bound to earth.

My lips closed
and in I breathed
the air the cranes fly in;
my bones turned

left and right with me, greeting
all the distant trees and then
I felt how from my beating heart’s
silent center burst

an opening, a freeing of the winds,
and all the heavens came to me,
shone with all their wants in me:
in me their widest thirst.

Not I went out: the winds came in
and found me where I never thought
to be: only in opening,
here before all worlds.




(2) Putting It All Back Together (合太極)

‘Put me back together
where I came apart.’
As if there were a where,
as if there were an I

that is apart. Part
only. Part me part
what? Break open stone,
open an eye:

what’s under’s still I.
What are my hands but soft
openings, twin manners
of feeling what I’m ever by,

with, never away from.
If I heft no chisel,
chip no name in the cliffs
for the ever-nearing light –

don’t think I’m un-
knowing. I’m here,
here in the hearing.
The wind and my silence

are a single sound.




(3) Carry the Tiger Back to the Mountain II (抱虎歸山之二)

As if I’m turning
‘back’ to rock – as if
I ever was,
stood solid.

Light as wind my hands
that open, grasp along,
pass as open leaves
over the knees, the rocks,

the here solid rounds.
What gleams,
what lights my way’s
before me now, close on,

closing in on. It’s wide, gapes
open as always. It
never
stops

nearing. I call it ‘mountain’
just to make it sound,
cast my voice, my sounding, my
pebble in that endless pond

of light that where I am surrounds.




(4) Carry the Tiger Back to the Mountain III (抱虎歸山之三)

Who knows how to carry this?
This thing between them all,
middle me where all things end
and I become – this ‘heart,’

prowler of my days
this daylight-mauling rager,
stranger here to all
but what I want?

It looks; I see. Want.
‘Wherever I am touched, I change
direction,’ go with the coming,
take all on.




(5) Step Up and Plant a Fist (進步栽捶)

The fist I tried to make
was bark only, rind,
a ring around the coming
of a hidden baby tree,

a gotten of the wind,
growing up
through me and all my makings
on its way to freer,

wider,
fuller of sun.
Feeling it rise above me
I settled to my knees,

knowing my place at last
among the leaves,
the soft open shadowed,
the living here beneath.



(6) Ward Off to Right (右掤)

This is my only shield:
to see these hands as halves
of a circle, held before
my heart to catch a sun.

I go nowhere, do no
thing: stand,
wait above the earth.
All the earth is under,

behind, with me.
Our cry is in the birds,
branches – many,
but we wait as one.

I that watch: hands wide to let
the day between: if day shall come
and in my gaping shape will show
the heart of all I wait among.


(7) Step Up to the Stars (上步七星)

Where I laid my right arm
down at last, the sky above
suddenly opened.

Stars shone down and lighted me,
saw perhaps before I knew it
where my left hand rose –

nearer to the heart that is
my strength and my abiding, my
nearest to knowing.

(Is know here wait, not
do? I never made, never told
those stars to show:

they came. And were enough
for seven heavens, filled
to overflowing.

One for every day I’ll ever
name. A light for every
way I’ll ever go.)

Light as a rising star, my right foot
lifted, stepped out over the earth
so near, so here below it.




(8) Step Back and Ride the Tiger (退步跨虎)

Back I go. Back and to
the tiger that I rode before
I heard I had a name.

He’s nice. He carried me
my wealth of ways, before their fast
and forward was the only way.

Back to the tiger’s
not their highway, not their
low back way.

It is a simple seeing of
what most was left aside,
a turning into place

and out of time.
Opening my fisted hands again
I feel the light of day,

the same again, ever the one.
Softer than any tiger’s paw I let, not put
my foot down by the way-

side. No need to form,
to warm the sand beside
this road. It’s here already, waiting

where we’ve always been.


--Lloyd Haft