“The Way of the Water-Hyacinth” by Zawgee (Favorite Poem Project)


My name is Lyn Aye, I’m an anesthesiologist
in San Jose, California. I was born in Burma and my favorite poem is
“The Way of the Water-Hyacinth” by Zawgee. I think poetry has played an important part in the lives of people in Burma,
perhaps only by default perhaps because there wasn’t much television, or there was no television at least when we were in growing up so we spent a lot
more time with books and reading different forms of poetry, I guess, plays and important roles in
different ceremonies that we have, like people recite poems extemporary, or do little satires,
I suppose it was like a poetry slam here. While I’ve known this poem since my childhood, and I
actually happen to know the poet, too, personally. He was a friend of the family, and this was a very well
known poem by the time I was growing up, too. And it was later developed
into a novel, and it even became a film. Zawgee was his pen name. Actually I believe his wife was there helping my mother through my birth, so
you know, his family at least was always there since the beginning. We grew up as friends and had a lot of visits, but I almost
always remember him in his… he’d sort of come out and say hi and
then just go back into his den and write. And because he was a librarian, and he loved books and writing, and poetry, but
he was always a very gentle person and a very learned person, too. “The Way of the Water-Hyacinth” by Zawgee This is a poem which I
translated from the Burmese. Bobbing on the breeze blown waves /
Bowing to the tide / Hyacinth rises and falls / Falling but not felled / By flotsam, twigs, leaves /
She ducks, bobs and weaves. / Ducks, ducks by the score /
Jolting, quacking and more / She spins through— / Spinning, swamped, slimed, sunk / She rises, resolute /
Still crowned by petals. And this is the way
it sounds in the original Burmese. Water-hyacinths are fairly
commonly found in Burma. There are a lot of rivers and water, and actually rangoon where
I grew up to the capital city is in the delta of Irrawaddy River. So there’s a lot of water around and water-hyacinths are
found very commonly around the lakes and rivers of Burma. And Zawgee was using a fairly commonly found object in nature
and using it as a symbol of, I think, of life in Burma. And here he was trying to, that’s what it says to me anyway,
to paint a picture of overcoming obstacles, and he’s using that as a symbol of the
water-hyacinth in the poem is buffeted by this whole host of ducks. It’s at the whim and
mercy of the tides at the first part of the poem. But then how even though it faces vicissitudes
it triumphs over it and still resolute. I think he did that because he wanted it to be a
symbol of the common person. And to an extent, what all the poems that went before were more
stylized and more about kings and courtiers, and like that. And he was the first one to really write a poem more
about the common people, their experiences, their feelings and the emotions, and the experiences.
And I think that’s perhaps why he picked perhaps the more common, in that sense,
flower rather than sort of the more regal, you know, lotus. This poem has stayed with me through the years
because, I guess, whenever I feel embattled, I’ve gone back to it for the
sense of reinvigoration and resolution. And of course, also in good times, I
go back just for the rhythm and the sound, and the rhythms it brings
back of my childhood.

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