The poetry of dead leaves in hot water

Reft and Light by Ernst Jandl. Foto Jurga Po Alessi

In the beginning were the dead leaves…

“Tea is just tea. It’s dead leaves in hot water. Nothing more.”

I read this statement here some days ago. Touché – I couldn’t agree with it more. Because, indeed, when we strip off the marketing buzzwords, hashtags and sales targets, all we are left with is a handful of tea leaves, dry and dead. Nothing more.

Nothing? The more I thought about it, the less convinced I was. So I whisked up a bowl of Matcha to get my sixth sense sharper and plunged into research. Japanese greens, Chinese oolongs, Indian blacks, a couple of whites from Fujian: I scoured my tea cabinet to see myriads of shapes of dead leaves. Hold on, rewind a second: shapes. Bingo, here we are. Think of that moment when you pour hot water on tea leaves, perhaps in a glass teapot or a transparent cup: have you ever noticed how they start to unfurl, twist and dance, changing shape and releasing their fragrance? This phenomenon known in the tea taster’s jargon as the agony of the leaves – isn’t it poetic by the way, – happens only and exclusively when steeping a tea made from full or unbroken, leaves. Sorry, tea bag.

…then came poetry

My joyful conclusion is, tea has more to offer than just dead leaves. It is also a moment of poetry whose time-frame is short but worth every second and minute. Should you need a quick reminder – 45 to 60 secs for the greens, 3 to 4 mins for the blacks, 5 to 6 mins for the oolongs.


Poetry and Tea: reading Ernst Jandl, steeping Sheng Pu-erh Tuo Cha

The dead leaves of Sheng Pu-erh in their sweet and slow agony. "Reft and Light" on the left.
The dead leaves of Sheng Pu-erh in their sweet and slow agony. “Reft and Light” on the left.
Reft and Light: Poems by Ernst Jandl with Multiple Versions by American Poets

Reft and Light is an experimental poetry book and true gift for every non-German speaking fan of Ernst Jandl. The experiment lies in the first part of the volume, entitled encirclings, ie. each poem in original is accompanied – encircled – by its multiple versions in English. Here’s the Editor Rosmarie Waldrop’s note:

Most of Ernst Jandl’s poems are so engrained in the German language that they are impossible to translate. But their procedures can be imitated. Here is an experiment: several American poets respond to each poem so that the original is encircled by multiple English analogues. The responses (which range from close imitations to freewheeling versions that continue Jandl’s thinking into other semantic areas) form the first part of the book. The version that seems closest to Jandl’s text is usually the first to follow the German.

fortschreitende räude

him hanfang war das wort hund das wort war bei
gott hund gott war das wort hund das wort hist fleisch
geworden hund hat hunter huns gewohnt

him hanflang war das wort hund das wort war blei
flott hund flott war das wort hund das wort hist fleisch
gewlorden hund hat hunter huns gewlohnt

schim schanflang war das wort schund das wort war blei
flott schund flott war das wort schund das wort schist fleisch
gewlorden schund schat schunter schuns gewlohnt

schim schanschlang schar das wort schlund schasch wort
schar schlei schlott schund flott war das wort schund
schasch fort schist schleisch schleschlorden schund
schat schlunter schluns scheschlohnt

s_______________c_______________h
s_______________c_______________h
schllls_______________c_______________h
flottsch

Progressive sin

sin the besinning was the sword and the sword was with
god and god was the sword and the sword has flesh
become and has among us dwelled

sin the besinning wash the sword sand the sword wash with
got sand got wash the sword sand the sword hash flesh
besome sand hash among pus dwelled

sin the be sing wash the sword sand the sword wash wits
gut sand gut wash the sword sand the sword hash flesh
be some sand hash song pus dwelled

sin he be sin sin was he or an he or ash its
gut an gut ash he or and he or ash is
be so and ash son pus dwelled

s___________o______________n
s______________u_______________n
s___________i______________n

A version (that seems closest to Jandl's text) by Craig Watson
Annunci

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