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I Ching Poetry

Lately, I’ve been exploring ways to immerse myself in readings more completely – and I Ching poetry seems to be a way to do that. Of course the book is poetry itself, but the attempts I know of to translate it directly into rhyme basically reduce it to jingles.

I linked the other day to Thom William’s I Ching poetry. It has its moments – Hexagram 41, for instance:
“Escape the shadow
By giving away your own.
Let the sun see through you.”

Then there is Adeleart I Ching meditations. A work in progress: some hexagrams have art work and poetic commentary, some (like Hexagram 16) have complete Flash presentations.

And Rhett Butler’s work. Still, sadly, just the first eight hexagrams, but beautiful and imaginative: both his own poetry for each hexagram, and also literary quotations for each. Start with the ‘Need help navigating this site?’ link – you do.

I mustn’t forget the I Ching Poetry Generator, of course. Maybe someone else will be able to make head or tail of it.

I only know of a couple of I Ching books with poetry for every hexagram: I Ching, the Shamanic Oracle of Change, a translation that includes poetry by Jay Ramsay, and Book of Changes by Karen Holden, which is simply an anthology of poems.

Jay Ramsay’s work usually feels to me very directly related to the essence of the hexagram, but some feels inspired, some more as if he’s trying very hard. Karen Holden is a poet, pure and simple, and the poems she offers connect to the hexagrams in different ways – some directly, some ironically. Here are a couple of examples from my hexagram of the last week: 16, Enthusiasm. (You can read more excerpts from both by following the links to Amazon.)

The Young Son
He is your energy –
Fresh, awake, first thing and ready
A clap of thunder rolling over the sky…
And now the clouds, now the promise of the rain,
Now, as its first drops fall, is the right time…’

Jay Ramsay, from The Shamanic Oracle of Change (available from Amazon in the US, Canada and the UK)

(Edited 9/12/05 to reduce the length of the quotation to within the UK’s daft copyright regulations. You can see the whole of his introductory poem with Amazon’s ‘look inside this book’ feature – on about the 4th page of the excerpt.)

And from Karen Holden –

This Garden
Each day it’s a new garden.
Marigolds and mint duke it out
for the lions share of the redwood box
spicy carnations arch and spike
the scallop squash grows mutant,
a dark green zeppelin, ridged and splotched.
Who can say
how the seeds we plant will grow?
Gnarled, grey, stuck
in the ground eye-up the potates
become a ferny canopy, shade the peppers
bruise the dill
No one told me a zucchini bush could take-over half a garden
Where there was a path yesterday, today
is a tangle of cantaloupe leaves
one tiny spaghetti squash dangles in the dark
center of a tomato plant taller than I am
and the morning glories insist on
climbing up the fence
instead of the trellis I labored over,
just as I insist on my own undirected life.
I pinch and tie and train but this garden
has a heart of its own, which it follows despite
my good wishes and knowing hand
So be it.
If the carrots are smothered by cucumbers
we shall live on less bright roots
take in the darker pith and skin of those
vining survivors and praise these stubborn lives
however they may grow.’

Karen’s Book of Changes is small, lovely, unpredictable – definitely recommended. It’s also available in the US, Canada and the UK.

I’m not sure how much poetry copyright regulations allow me to quote, but I hope I can get away with squeezing this in – the last words of the book, from Hexagram 64’s poem, ‘Lilac’:

‘Even in the night it is lilac, the scent intensifies
then; lilac, and frenzied moths hitting the moist
lighted windows. I imagine every light is sky
to them, as they throw themselves, wings outspread,
into the hard sides of God.’


Stop ‘press’, as it were – I just found ‘Tortoise Dances’, a downloadable volume of poetry by Dennis Goza, inspired by the I Ching. I’m looking forward to reading these. If you know of any other I Ching poems, online or off, do add a comment.

4 responses to I Ching Poetry

  1. ‘Fair use’ for poetry is quite different to prose in UK copyright law. You are not allowed to quote an entire poem at all, without payment of a fee, which can sometimes be quite extortionate, especially for song lyrics. I forget the percentage you are allowed to quote under fair use, but I think it’s something like 40%.

  2. I have made up a jingle for each of the 64 images in the I Ching. I make no claim to poetry, but I hope that my work would interest the general reader in the I Ching (which I like to read as a series of wide-ranging essays). I would be interested in any responses. My website is http://www.benandverse.com.
    It appears under “Phony Pearls of Fictitious Wisdom,” but I make clear that I find nothing “phony” in the I Ching.


    John McCall

  3. I mentioned my rhymes based on the I Ching above. They are covered by “Creative Commons” meaning here that anyone who credits the source may quote any number of my rhymes at any length.

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