Literature and Me
In college, learning literature was not as easy as I had expected. I had gone through high school reading books, and found them very entertaining as much as they taught me how to write well. During my first year in college, I was known to my immediate group of friends that I was the “literary” one, the proof being the fact that was I always accompanied by a book wherever I went. But when it came to studying literature in college, I felt as though the skills I have acquired all those years reading did not match up to how a person of literature should read any piece of literary work. I felt so belittled by what I was not and thought it strange that having read so many novels in the past did not thoroughly make me into a person fully knowledgeable about how to read short stories and novels, and even poetry.
In one of my basic math classes, I had the opportunity to make friends with one who was a fellow literature enthusiast. She was a year higher than me but we still had a good friendship that revolved most of the time with books and all things literature.
A year later, she discovered the most interesting poem, and shared it with me. It was called “On Hearing Her Play the Harp” by Li Tuan (Introduction to Literature, 329). It is a very short poem with just four lines.
Her hands of white jade by a window of snow
Are glimmering on a gold-fretted harp—
And to draw the quick eye of Chou Yu,
She touches a wrong note every now and then.
I did not read a lot of poetry, but then when my friend, who was then on the cusp of becoming a professor, explained this poem. For such a short poem, we discussed this ancient work for more than an hour. When I grasped the entire meaning of the poem with its images, implications, suggestions, historical significance, this four-line poem blew me away. I was astounded by its powerful images, sounds, the intelligent woman playing the harp and her intentions, its feminist topic and transcendent theme. The woman, who was then viewed as weak and inferior to men, was interestingly manipulative in this poem, posing a power and romantic struggle between her and the military official Chou Yu. By getting his attention with her intentional incompetent playing, she attracts a powerful man in all of China, and this small gesture says a lot about her being a woman in that period and culture.
When we close-read this particular poem, it felt as if each word, each syllable held the secret to its meaning. I could feel my mind expanding the more we tried to fully understand the poem. With every wave of learned information, my intellect kept growing and my literacy felt heavier and more compact because of this one poem. It felt very enlightening just learning about it and after our discussion, it felt as though I have gained wisdom and the world looked as somewhat brighter. Now I find time to read more poetry as this is the highest form of literature, and by learning more about poems, I am investing in my literary knowledge and in understanding people, relationships, and many other things. Currently, I have taken a great liking to A. E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” for its unique perspective on youth, fame, glory, and death. With every analyzed work, I get that same feeling, like the constant ebb and flow of water on the base of a promontory. It has hit me hard and the inspiration stays with me, enhancing my understanding of literature, and ultimately, the world we live in.
Tuan, Li. “On Hearing Her Play the Harp”. Introduction to Literature. Ed. Edilberto Tiempo, et al. Manila: R. P. Garcia Publishing Co., 1980. 329. Print.