American Muse: Daniel Halpern

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“Careless Perfection”

According to Lin Yutang,
both Po Chuyi and Su Tungpo
“desperately admired” Tao Yuanming,

a poet of nature who wrote a single love poem,
a poem thought by Chinese dilettantes to be
the one “blemish in a white jade.”

Can a poet be faulted for calling a woman
“carelessly perfect in beauty”?
He chose to long for her by envying

the candle that glowed upon her
beautiful face, the shadow
that followed in her every move.

Yet the nature poet Tao Yuanming, at home
with the sudden turning of seasons,
now feared the shadow in darkness,

a discarded fan that once stirred her hair,
feared the candle at dawn. At last believed
that for beauty he had lived in vain.

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