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by Robert A.B. Sawyer



Dynasty after dynasty after dynasty

From Xia and Tang to the Maoist and Yuan 

Poets have praised these rocks

And the fierce river that made them.

But poets are indolent and avoid hard work.


To them a river is a metaphor

Wrecked ships and drowned fishermen are metaphors. 

The tears of wives and mothers are beautiful.

Their desperate cries make a kind of music

Which in poems is frequently described as beautiful.


But from this point on, there will be no music.

No more metaphors or, for that matter, poets.

Qutang, Wuxia and Xiling will disappear

Behind the monstrous Three Gorges Dam.

And the water, for all its centuries of howling, will be calm.


“No music,” perhaps I’ve overstated my case.

Metaphors, like energy, won’t be destroyed, only transformed. 

As for beauty, we shouldn’t be surprised when poets find it

In displaced people, drowned villages, engineered landscapes.

After all, what possible use is there in suffering except

To inspire words so full of feeling that they sing.


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