Ode on a Chinese Urn

(with allusion to John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn)


You still unbroken vessel of longevity,

you elder of Silence and slow Time,

You Middle kingdom historian, who doth express

a powerful tale more enduring than the mandarin:

What dragon-drawn legend lives within your Han,

your provinces, your dynasties, your Confucian,

in walled Beijing or the mists of Sichuan?

What emperors or peasants are these? What workers’ revolution?

What mad five-year plan? What struggle to progress?

What Song? What Gong? What New Year’s pageantry?


New prosperities are sweet, but those ancient

are sweeter; therefore, with huquins, play now;

Not to the occidental ear, but, more revered,

play to the maosoleum  march  of Mao:

Young man, within the Party, you can’t forsake

the Song, nor ever can your heritage be gone;

Bold youth, never, never will you tire,

Though winning be your goal–oh, do not expire;

China cannot fade, though you have not eternal bliss,

For ever will you excel, and thereby make progress!


Ah happy, happy urn, that has not broken


your porcelain, your bronze, nor your Cathay!

You determined worker, unweary,

for ever working steel and silicon today;

More production, more quotas , more yuan renminbi,

for ever productive and for ever employed–

go ye ever panting, and ever for the gain;

with seething dedication, and no small pain.

It makes a man productive, not void

in the ever-marching cadre, the wagging dragon’s train.


Who are these coming to your revolution?

To what five-year plan, O fearless Chairman,

lead’st thou these workers ascending to the Party

in all their ancestors’ silken flanks?

What little village by Yangtse or Yellow banks,

what Pudong tower or Chongqing power

is steaming with your folk, to dawning dynasty?

Oh Shanghai! thy streets forevermore

will crowded be, Onward Guangzou, Xian,  Beijing,

with overflowing urns of Deng Xiaoping.


Oh China vessel, such prodigious capacity! with breed

of terra cotta men and women overwrought,

with  harnessed rivers and jade of steed;

You, porcelained dragon, dost challenge us from thought,

to red conformity: Cultural evolution!

When old age shall this generation waste,

thou shalt advance, in midst of Tiananmen woe,

upon the hard and fearsome world, with haste:

“Life is work, and work is life–that is all

ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”



CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress


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