they’re given a golden cage
but locked away their plumage fades
This crow doesn’t care for either your palaces or your heights. I own everything in between. My voice gone ragged with harsh laughter, I’m not the magpie, who welcomes guests. Get away, you swans and geese, graceful but dull. Have you seen the glitter in my eyes? Do you know why, whirling up with my brothers and sisters from trees with our jarring disregard for your peace of mind, we are called both a flock and a murder? Put me in a cage: I’ll trick my way out, for fun. I’ll fight my way out, to teach you. Your god shot down nine of the old ten, but I’m the one left. And I rise black, every day, to eat your seed and scatter your senses, shining with a dark flame, burning from within.
In Korea, a magpie is thought to herald the arrival of guests at a house. In Chinese mythology, there were once ten suns, which took the form of ten crows. Houyi (后羿) shot down nine of the ten after all ten rose at once and destroyed the earth’s vegetation and caused living beings to suffer. The notes to this poem reference a story about a woman from the south who the King of Sung demanded be sent to him; the birds in cages are women kept in the imperial chambers. The last lines of this poem, which follow the two quoted above, “not like wild geese and swans/flying up in the clouds” could reference those people, men or women, who avoid such worldly snares as imperial harems. But I’m losing patience with the insistent male voice in Cold Mountain’s poems. After reading him for 20 days and encountering a subtle bias in the poems, it’s difficult not to hear the masculine freedom implied in contrast to the feminine imprisonment.
See pp. 48-49 here for the Chinese text and Red Pine’s notes and English translation.