Mr So and Li Po
Last week, the Grade 12 HL English classes had the pleasure of welcoming our Physics teacher Mr So into our classrooms to give a presentation on the cultural context of Chinese poetry as we are beginning our Works in Translation course. This is so that we as individuals have a broader and deeper perspective of particular cultures throughout the world. This year, we are focusing on the poems of Li Po, short stories of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and a play by Federico Garcia Lorca.
To start things off, Mr So set the scene by placing a few of Li Po’s favourite beverages around the room, dressing in a traditional red robe (to look the part), and producing an antique goose-feathered fan. After this, he began to recite some of his favourite poems of Li Po, and showed us the structure of traditional Chinese poems. That is to say, five characters per line, with four lines to a stanza.
Once Mr So had shown us these poems, and worked with us to decipher the deeper meanings behind them, he gave us all a copy of a poem to translate into English ourselves. When translated into English, we found that the poem roughly said:
Traveling the wide ocean.
Lost in the house of utopia,
With a trace nowhere to be found.
Now, Mr So had a surprise in store for us, when he began to talk about how different characters could mean different things, and how the poet would often hide the meaning of the poem in the first character in every line. It just so happens that the character for “horse” can also be the character for “Malaysia”, and the character for “travel” is often used to describe airlines. So, after explaining this, he dropped the bombshell of a secret meaning “Malaysia airlines lost, no trace”.
It’s fair to say that all the students were very shocked at this, but grateful that Mr So presented this incredibly useful, and entertaining experience for us.