How to describe sea
To someone who’s never seen it?
He lives to ninety-nine, he wants it, to see it
To walk on its glass surface, to blow the seven trumpets.
At this joyous moment gigantic angel wings
Write prophecy all over the sky. How can I tell him
About sea storms, the chocking waves
These things, right and wrong, that happen between us?
The prophecy he can’t read is the world, tears
That become sea, sea that dries to salt.
On the brink of imagination, he’s walking
Faster than us, a shadow white as our rumpled sheets.
Lick clean the moist forehead, the indescribable saltiness of the body
Building exercises that take the whole afternoon.
Resist the current, the waist laden with water sustains
A thousand years of sediment. The love that can’t be contained.
He drifts downstream, pursues
Nothing. He enters the sea before us.
Translated from the Chinese by Rachel Levitsky.
Zhang er, “Cross River . Pick Lotus” from THE ECCO ANTHOLOGY OF INTERNATIONAL POETRY. Copyright © 2010 by Zhang Er. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Source: THE ECCO ANTHOLOGY OF INTERNATIONAL POETRY (Words Without Borders, 2010)
- The poem is as much about location and wanting to be somewhere as it is about the person who wants to go that place. What is one place you have always wanted to go and why? How do you think it would change you?
- How is the sea both a beautiful and a dangerous place? How does this play out in the poem? What can be gained from visiting the sea? What can be lost?
- In the poem, seven trumpets and prophecy are mentioned. What do you think they mean and how do they foreshadow what is to come?
- How do surprise endings make us feel? Did the poem’s ending go in a direction you were not expecting and if so, why?
- Try reading the poem backwards. How does it change the poem’s meaning? How does it give you a new understanding of the work? Then try reciting this poem backwards. Does it give the poem new meaning? Does it change the way you might read it for a recitation?
- The poet uses figurative language to create imagery, for instance: “walk glass surface”, “writing prophecy all over the sky”, “tears that become sea”. All of these phrases speak to nature. Where else is nature alluded to in the poem? How does nature speak to the supernatural and to a sense of safety and homecoming?
- How would you describe the sea to someone who has never seen it? Write about a place you have never been but would like to go to. Do as much research and image searching as you can to get a good sense of what place is like and how best to describe it.
Follow the link below to read an interview with the author that also included selected audio to get a better Zhang Er as an impressive multi-disciplinary artist. Her works extends outside of poetry into fields as diverse and science and opera.