”A Chinese Sage” by Elizabeth Jennings Essay Sample

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Elizabeth Jennings wrote this poem as part of a collection of works written in 1975 in a book called Growing-Points. A sage is a man who is believed to be wise, and having the wisdom of experience.1 This term could also be referred to as an herb, although given the circumstances it seems more likely to be the first option. Interesting how it seems that a sage is a man not a woman, evident in the dictionary and in the poem. The subject of the poem is quite intriguing.

A Chinese sage reckons that he has written the perfect piece of poetry, however feels necessary to show it to a woman of hard labour. She reads through it, and does not understand various words. These words could be linked to wealth and freedom, which she has no clue about, therefore the poem’s focus was useless. The sage changes the wording, and feels that the woman is wiser, therefore asking her to be his mentor, because he otherwise would have no idea about the life, working class people in China around mid 700’s until early 800’s would lead. At the end of the poem the author provides a narrative view, asking the reader, whether the sage is more a poet or more a philosopher.

This specific poem was written in blank verse. In a sense, this poem almost contradicts all other poems studied so far, because this is the only one that has no rhyme scheme what so ever. It is built into one big stanza, consisting of 23 lines. The poem is laid out, so that there is a line, then a couple of words on the next line shifted to the right, and then a next full line. This remains the case until line 13, which has a gap, missing the few words. This is also the case when the narrative angle appears at the later stage of the poem. Why the author did this remains quite a mystery to the untrained eye. However sustains an open form (free verse), as the shape of the poem gradually can be determined by the reader.

The tone of the poem is very unbalanced. It begins with a sense of “hearsay” storytelling narration, such as been read a fairytale when one was younger. Then suddenly the author adds on line 3, “In private till for him it seemed a poem, yes he took this to a peasant…” By adding this word it seems that the speaker is telling a story to the reader. The addition of this word also shows a sense of mere recollection to what actually happened, in that the speaker attempts to recall, then suddenly remembers. The whole story of the built relationship between the peasant and the sage is very intimate. The sage, who thinks he has it all, is taught a lesson by someone who is less fortunate than he is. It seems ironic in a sense how someone teaches him, an educated man, a lesson in this case the peasant. By doing this, he has widened his understanding to the working class civilisation and their understanding to the nobler folk of the Chinese Empire within the previously mentioned time period.

There is no imagery within this poem by Elizabeth Jennings what so ever. However the Rhythm of the poem can be seen as a comparison between two different life styles, otherwise known as a conceit. By that I mean that, the author attempts to show the ignorance that the sage possess towards the life of the peasant, and showing the comparison of the lives lead by peasants and nobility throughout the Chinese Empire. Apart from 5 of the 23 lines, they all have run-on-lines (a line that doesn’t end with punctuation, and is read with a slight pause), which I’m not sure how it helps the poem. Usually this technique can either speed up or slow down the poem, however in this case it does neither of these mentioned. It does in a sense however show a sign of completion. The line just suddenly ends and the next word follows shortly below, showing an attempted completion to the previous sentence. Imagery is also loosely used within the poem. On line 5, “Read it to her softly and slowly and waited for her rough-voiced…” this refers to the auditory image, as one of the sensory experiences. On lines 17-18, a form of listing is utilised. “…Hay, beds, crude meals, lust…” all are visualising the life of the peasant. There is a caesura on line 17, “That she was a world he could only enter through her. Hay, beds…” There is also a slight repetition of the word most on line 21.

There is no rhyme scheme what so ever, although there is one rhyme. This is represented on line 14, as Magnanimity and humility and then these two, rhyme with obscurity on line 15. The author’s intention or even that of the hidden speaker was to underlie that, although the wise man has had his education, there are always topics that are left out and a lady who hasn’t had the chance of education, teaches him these lessons. There is a great usage of commas within the poem. The sentence structure tends to be elongated as the sentences last from line 1-7, 7-17, 17-19, and then 19-23. Why Elizabeth Jennings decided to start off making the lines longer, then shorten them is quite interesting. Maybe it shows the slow (long) understanding progress of the sage towards the peasant, and then as the poem nears completion the sentences are shortened.

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