Ice on the River (After Mei Yao Chen), George Freek

Gillian Sargeant, Girl (copy of John Singer Sargent), 8′ X 5,’ acrylic


ICE ON THE RIVER (After Mei Yao Chen)


The clouds absorb the light.
They say what they say
only to the night.
As the moon climbs the sky,
the sweetness of apple
blossoms fills my mind,
reminding me of spring,
but spring is far away.
Snow now falls on the trees.
Starlings huddle frozen
on barren branches,
devoid of leaves.
Last winter, my wife
would be making tea
for my friends and me.
But she’s gone.
The friends, I no longer
wish to see. The end
of life is bitter.
The river flows,
but it’s no friend,
it turns to ice in the winter.

George Freek


Review by Andrea Jackson

Beautiful and sad, and peaceful in the acceptance of sadness.


Review by Mark J. Mitchell

Chinese poetry has been familiar to English speakers ever since Ezra Pound’s Cathay. At least, we thought it was familiar to us.

Like most people I know, I have only met these poets in translation and, to quote Frost, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”

In my reading I have learned that there is much that is inaccessible in the poetics of China. There is the musicality of the language to begin with. Like actual Chinese music, it comes at us with a different scale. Also, because of the agendas of early translators, most of us don’t know that all classical Chinese poetry rhymed.

Like many of my generation, I am most familiar with the great T’ang poets, Tu Fu, Li Po and Wang Wei. I know these poets in versions by Ezra Pound, Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, Burton Watson and David Hinton.

Now George Freek presents us with two poems from leading poets of the Sung Dynasty (C. 1000C.E to 1225 C.E.). I don’t know if these are translations or just imitations of the poetic voices of these poets. I could not find other versions of these poems either in my several anthologies of classical Chinese poets nor on line. Not really surprising, Su Tung Po alone has left us over 2,400 hundred poems. When I work from another language (French, Latin and Occitan) and label the poem “after” I mean that a certain poem and poet are the jumping off point but please don’t fault me as a translator, I’m an imitator in the Robert Lowell sense.

“The Limits of Compassion (After Su Tung Po)” is a lovely small poem that could take place anywhere—ancient China, a contemporary suburb in Illinois, say. The speaker is observing flowers and trees both visually and through the scents. He sees an old woman across the street. He wishes not to share the burdens of her old age. As a Chan Buddhist, he knows that he will.

“Ice on the River (After Mei Yao Chen)” is another poem that deals with aging. This time the winter weather stands in for the degeneration of the body and soul. The central pain of the speaker is the death of his wife over the last year. Mei Yao Chen seems to come from more of a Daoist point of view, where there is no choice but to let time flow.

What truly astonishes me about George Freek’s versions is their musicality. They both have an element of rhyme without ever falling to a pattern. There is an internal chiming and echoing of sounds within the lines that enhances the meaning and the imagery within the poems. These versions seem to sing in a minor key.

Thanks for these versions, George.


Review by Sanjida Yasmin

The longing in this poem is very intriguing. Nowadays, it is rare to see any rhyming in a poem. However, the rhyming scheme in this poem is refreshing and quite sweet. The mechanics of this poem as a whole adds to the loneliness of the speaker, bittersweet and beautiful. 

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