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Poetry: History


The Emperor of China
spends his summers by the sea;
in the morning,
he tends his garden, and
at twilight paints
from his window, the shore,
the cliffs and
especially the gulls.

Courtiers admire his works,
the subtle interplay
of grey on grey - the gulls,
the cliffs, the hint of mist
that fades into
they grey brush sweep of sea.

The Emperor hears their praise,
and, knowing what it is worth,
he is unmoved.

In winter, the Emperor lives
by the Wall.
In the evening
he hears advisors, and
in the morning he walks alone
along the definite edge
of his kingdom -
watching barbarian herdsmen
govern goats among the scrub.

He hears their armies
rattling the spearpointed mountains
and, because the Wall is there,
he is not moved.

So it was,
one morning in the Spring,
the Emperor stood on his ramparts
and saw
a single kite,
grey against the Western sky
that did not skip and buck
as other kites,          but
caught the draught
like an eagle,    and dove
with the pride of a hawk -
no, he thought,
more like a gull
that drops a shell and whirls
before it has fallen
to meet the feast           on
the rocks below.

After a little time, he also saw,
beneath the kite
                         a man.

                                    Before the sun
                                    was fully aware, before even
                                    the desert herds had seen,
                                    the Emperor saw a man in the sky,
                                    from the too thin path
                                    on his makeshift wall,
                                    and he beckoned the man,
                                    then went for a soldier. 

                                    They burned the kite. 

                                    The rude rice paper melted
                                    from the wood,        the ashes
                                    caught the draught and soared
                                    to the top of the Wall,
                                    falling again, into the Emperor's garden.
                                    The frame buckled in the flames
                                    and dropped.          The farmer,
                                    who had risen so early,
                                    did not live to see the sun -
                                    even the soldier died,
                                    when other soldiers were called.

                                    Still, in the summer,
                                    the Emperor paints from his window,
                                    pictures of cliffs, and gulls,
                                    and evening hawks.
                                    His courtiers flatter unstintingly
                                    the smallest sketch from his pen. 

                                    The Emperor hears their praise, and,
                                    knowing what it is worth,
                                    cannot fail to he moved.

Inspired, as so often, by Ray Bradbury,the greatest poet in American English.
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