The Bigness of Small Poems – #39 in a Series – Five Disorienting Wisdom Poems!

Sculptural Relief of Italian poet Trilussa, the pseudonym for Carlo Alberto Salustri (1871-1950)


I saw a bee settle on a rose petal.
It sipped, and off it flew.
All in all, happiness, too,
is something little.

Trilussa (aka Carlo Alberto Salustri 1871-1950), ed. Geoffrey Brock, trans. John Dowd from FSG Book of 20th Century Italian Poetry, FSG, 2012

Discovered to my shock I never posted this a few days ago when I wrote it and snow was everywhere. Today thew snow is gone!!!

How disorienting to be reading about bees and flowers while everywhere I look, here on a Tuscan hilltop near Peccoli, is blanketed in snow! How pleased I am, snow or no snow, to discover Trilussa, the anagramatic pseudonym for a well-known poet from Rome, Carlo Alberto Salustri. To discover his epigrammatic small poems which so well suit my on-going series on the bigness of small poems! His poems built on images, then the thinking, the intellectual leap to the wisdom-reveal. That bigness.

I was so happy to be surprised by Trilussa’s poem Happiness. That happiness can be small not big. How much I wonder, am I influenced by a bias of the importance of bigness in my life. Am I more programmed to see happiness in big moments, big events like falling in love or winning some poetry prize! But not in the joy from a bee sipping from a flower. Yet how big is that! A huge part of the cycle of life, bees making life fruitful. Without them, an environmental crisis.

Then here again, in this big small poem, this wonderfully disconcerting disorientation!

The Turtle

While out walking one night,
the old turtle overstepped
and fell down
with her shell turned upside down.
A toad shouted at her: “how stupid you are!
These are escapades that cost you your life…”
“I know”, the turtle replied. “But before I die,
I’ll see the stars”

What An upside down poem! Literally and figuratively. It reminds me of a friend telling me once: Sometimes your bad luck turns out to be your good luck. And your good luck turns out to be your bad luck. A good reminder to take it all lightly.

This idea that turning over, that helplessness, orients the turtle to the stars! What a great turn! How true in my own life. How an upside down moment in my life like a divorce, can be the very thing that rights another part of me. Orients me toward my deepest longing and fulfillment.

With Trilussa’s turtle poem I am reminded of these three similarly epigrammatic poetic gems. More hugeness inside the small. Izumi Shikibu was a 10th Century Japanese poet, Mizuta Masahide was a student of  Basho. Sam Hamill is the former editor of Copper Canyon Press:

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu from The Ink Dark Moon, trans Jane Hirschfield, Vintage Classics, 1990

Barn’s burnt down
I can see the moon.

 Mizuta Masahide (1657 – 1723) from Zen Poetry: Let Spring Breeze Enter, Trans. Lucien Styrk and Takashi Ikemoto, Grove Press, 1995

When Su Teng-p-o was
an old man, his house burned down.
He laughed, “Now I can see the stars!”

Sam Hamill from Destination Zero, White Pine Press, 1995

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