Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CHINESE PROCESSION, by WITTER BYNNER

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CHINESE PROCESSION, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Elaborate procession! Some one dead
Last Line: With the deathless laughters, the forgotten gods.
Alternate Author Name(s): Morgan, Emanuel
Subject(s): Sonnet (as Literary Form)


Elaborate procession! Some one dead,
The red insignia topping many a pole,
Comes through an arch in China, charioted
By shuffling men, each with as much of soul
As haunted yesterday this body borne
Across the desert mounds out of Peking.
His hired mourners, ragged and forlorn,
But still alive, pass, with the wind of spring,
A fallen temple. And beyond the gate
I see the remnants of five broken gods,
Unroofed, untended now, grown desolate
And harsh with posturing mud and iron rods
And ends of straw. Am I as dead as they,
Or shall newer gods arise from this old clay?


The quiet dead are their own sanctuary,
And mine as well, from life and living men.
Doubtful of other gods, I bow the knee,
Before the vaulted universe again,
To all the anointed: to a little tree,
Whose leafage by the lake becomes a store
Of young and ardent anonymity,
Where virtue is not virtue any more;
To the brook that by no toilful agony
Is risen round my feet, but by a rain
High on the mountain, as unknown to me
As dead men having nothing to explain.
Yet, had they never lived, would they be dead,
Or I have thought at all what I have said?


Where marble fragments of imperial time
Lie now with any stone in Peking's wall,
I saw a severed dragon try to climb
Against his degradation. Stupas, tall
In honorable days, lay passive there,
Dipping their horizontal victories,
Whose lost inscriptions were the futile care
Of builders of such monuments as these.
But here am I, alive, on Mokanshan,
Where rainbow arches, pinnacled with cloud,
Erect a wall and roof more honoring man
Than any tomb the heavens have allowed,
And fill the air with tablets of the pride
Of all the living men who ever died.


Rain comes abrupt, but undisturbing, here,
Blown through the bamboo circle of my nook.
And opening my eyes, I close my book,
Perceiving some things dark and others clear.
Here, in a world of ardors overcast
And cooled again, a breath of dawns uncaught
Has touched me to the very root, and brought
The future raining on the gathered past.
I put away my book of ancient men,
Whose leaves were blown and wet with dropping tears
Instead of with this rainfall that endears
The whole young earth. And I am new again --
As if an opening tender leaf could sing
The multitude of leaves that make the spring.


The rain has ended. Tiny moths and swallows
And poising dragon-flies flit one by one
Before a long processional that follows
Of all the dynasties under the sun.
I watch the Tatars and the Mongols pass;
The Mings, the Manchus, and the Japanese;
And then the Europeans; and then, alas!
Even Americans go by like these.
And, later, shadowy things, before my eyes,
File among twinkling willows into space,
Leaving the swallows and the dragon-flies
And tiny moths and me to run our race
As ever, at the ends of periods,
With the deathless laughters, the forgotten gods.

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