The Poem in English
green green green yellow green green red,
yellow yellow green green green yellow red,
red red green green red yellow green,
yellow green yellow red green green red.
Pronunciation in Chinese
lǜ lǜ lǜ huáng lǜ lǜ hóng,
huáng huáng lǜ lǜ lǜ huáng hóng,
hóng hóng lǜ lǜ hóng huáng lǜ,
huáng lǜ huáng hóng lǜlǜ hóng.
The Poem in Chinese
Note*: I was rushing through the New England highways, passing by shades of colors the foliage threw onto me. I sometimes just felt the reds and yellows randomly cutting through the greens, but without thinking, without appreciation, without judgment. If I had some intention to interpret them, perhaps I could come up with certain meanings. I am sure that there are lots of people who want to and can find more meanings than those who try to interpret Impressionist Art, more meanings than a psychiatrist who meets a patient for the first time.
Individual patient’s and significant others’ feelings have long been a key concern in psychiatry. In public health research, there is an increasing emphasis on community participation research, which hopes to promote all stakeholders’ perspectives. This poem reports that a person may not have any perspective, any meaning, or even any feeling about certain things about everything at least some of the time.
I ended up writing a poem to record such an experience. It is a new kind of poem that helps people share such impressions. This poem emphasizes a rough, ambiguous impression of three groups of colors: green, yellow, and red, while discarding the shapes within each. I am going to mix all these shades randomly into an impression of only three colors which reflects a state of mind free of meaning, free of feelings, free of intentions. As such, this poem must violate two major conventions of literature – by filling the whole piece with only three words, and all of them are adjectives, no noun, not even adverb.
Note**: The closest format that helps me prune such an experience into a literary style is probably the Classical Chinese seven-character-in-four-line-poem. It fits the random line-up of short rows of colors along the highway, and I can still insert its rigid rhythm pattern that can be recited with a music-like sound effect. The carefully arranged framework enhances the rhythm effect of the whole poem (Try reciting this poem in Chinese, as shown in the block of Pronunciation in Chinese located next to the English version). Such a rhyming convention has been a key reason for the popularity of Classical Chinese Poems. It helps the spreading of messages. Over the last 3,000 years, millions of Chinese in each generation have been able to remember and recite at least a few of such poems, illiterates included. In addition to using only three characters to fill up all 28 slots, I have also to violate one more requirement of such convention – that there should be no more than one or sometimes two identical characters in a poem, especially not in the same line.
Note***: Most Classical Chinese Poems require structured rhyming in every line and every location in a line. While certain locations allow for flexibility, the last character in at least half of lines must come from one of several dozens of groups of tones.
There are roughly two types of tones: Flat (F) and Ramp (R) tones. The location of each character must follow a certain pattern, unless either F or R is allowed (X). There are several sub-groups of the Classical 4 x 7 style poems, depending on the pattern of location of the tones. The version of this poem follows this pattern:
X R X F X R F,
X F X R X F F,
X F X R X F R,
X R X F X R F.
Tom Chung, Ph.D., M.Phil., B.S.Sc., is a professor in the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health. He has also maintained a life-long passion in the study of Chinese history, culture, and poetry. He is one of a few writers who has published in five Chinese societies and diasporas, despite their political differences.