- Two Poems
from the Years We Didn’t See the Dawn
Half asleep, half awake, A time of dreaming dreams
I wanted to walk but Did not know which way to take.
Half unknowing, My days are running out My paunch thickens and my neck folds sag As I grow older. A time of getting nowhere.
I have passed through all this Unheeding, as in a train One passes stations by.
Along the shore, Gathering up fallen blossoms, Drinking water from the spring, this joy I had; But having is but for a moment Not having is for a lifetime. [End Page 22]
So from the countryside I came, Gazing in wonder at the town. But these days of ours are no longer auspicious.
Our horoscopes are poor, Always bluffing our way through, We have entered the jungle of old age.
Twisting, crooked Are the dark trails, Littered with harsh thorns, Overwhelming Those who pass with Misfortune and suffering.
For us, life’s dream is a mere flash, Not like the eternal life of the gods.
As a young man I met with Lenin But growing older, I would like to meet with Lincoln. On the brink of the chasm, The terrifying shadow loomed.
And darkness fell on you, And darkness fell on me. Some grabbed each other by the hair, Some slipped and fell. Some fell helpless on their backs, Others were cruel and pitiless. Right and wrong no longer mattered, Sweet became bitter, As we played the tune of the times, With its false doctrines.
The rhythm of life could not be heard, The beauty of life was marred, And harmony decomposed. [End Page 23]
The way we live now, Submitting reports Loaded with lies.
Recording “yes, sir, certainly, sir” Onto tapes filled with misinformation.
Our smart “party” jackets Now all creased and musty.
We are treated like tea flasks, Put here, sent there at our bosses’ bidding,
Robots, Our lives without joy, We merely Nod our heads.
At this time, We are not poetry, We are not human, This is not life, This is just so much wasted paper.
We do not worship learning, We worship power,
We do not put our faith in skills, We put our faith in the gun.
We have embraced the four corruptions Greed, hatred, ignorance, and fear, That should be shunned,
We have shed our shame And hung it up out of sight.
And so the yellow padauk flowers Have bloomed joylessly, Time and again, [End Page 24]
And many nights Have there been When the listless moon shone With pale and feeble light.
We have bartered our lives for falsehood And now that we have reached old age, At death’s very door, I wonder if these times Should be put on record as, “The years we didn’t see the dawn”?
Tears a strand of gray hair a decade gone
In those years the honey wasn’t sweet mushrooms wouldn’t sprout farmlands were parched
The mist hung low the skies were gloomy Clouds of dust on the cart tracks Acacia and creepers and thorn-spiral blossoms But it never rained and when it did rain, it never poured
At the village-front monastery no bells rang no music for the ear no novice monks no voices reading aloud Only the old servant with a shaved head sprawled among the posts
And the earth like fruit too shy to emerge [End Page 25] without fruit in shame and sorrow glances at me When will the tears change and the bells ring sweet? [End Page 26]
Tin Moe was born in 1933 in the village of Kanmye, eighty miles southwest of Mandalay. After the nationwide pro-democracy uprising in August 1988, he became a member of the National League for Democracy’s Intellectual Committee. At this time, he wrote poems supporting the democracy movement and opposing the military government’s socialist dictatorship. In 1991, he was sentenced to four years in the infamous Insein Prison. He managed to escape Burma in 1999 and obtain...