Reading: Forlorn (忧 郁) by Bei Dao

Emboldened by my anthologizing habit, today I discover the Chinese poet Bei Dao (a pseudonym that means “northern island”). As usual, I’ll say what I like about this poem.

I take the elevator from an underground parking lot
up to sea level
deep thoughts continuing up, through blue color

like doctors you can’t stop
them, deciding my whole life:
the road to success

the season’s unrelated to a boy’s shout
he’s growing up, he knows
how to wound others in his dreams

The beginning of the poem makes a rather western impression. I am in a building, pondering deep thoughts in the elevator after parking my car. The thoughts are unstoppable like doctors, who decide my whol life and the road to success. Are these obstetricians helping with a complicated birth where a lack of oxygen can indeed decide what the child will be incapable of later in life? Did I perhaps take the elevator because I cannot walk?

The next strophe comes suddenly and contains the line that does ‘wham’, that poetic thought the poem had been preparing for by making sure we readers aren’t prepared. It’s hard to see what the unrelatedness of the season to a boy’s shout means. These are the deep thoughts I have in the elevator. Thoughts about a shouting, rebellious boy who is growing up and hence “knows / how to wound others in his dreams”. That’s an enigma! Does it mean by growing up the boy (and every human being) learns how to satisfy his sadism in his dreams, so he doesn’t need to wound anyone in the flesh? Or is the boy dreaming of hurting/wounding/leaving a wound in me? Am I feeling forlorn on my visit to a boy in the hospital. Is the boy perhaps my son and had there been complications during his birth? Is that why he shouts?

Does growing up mean we learn how to wound others in our dreams? It doesn’t mean we actually wound others, just that we become aware of their vulnerability. Isn’t that the source of empathy, not yet present in the innocent play of young children? Is the knowledge a fall from innocence, a fall into ‘relatedness’ with other people we know how to affect in our dreams? What about the season? Is it summer (‘blue color’) whereas the unrelated boy’s shout is associated with a darker season?

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