friday feast: tea and poetry


“There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson



The first cup moistens my lips and throat;
The second cup breaks my loneliness;
The third cup searches my barren entrail but to
find therein some five thousand volumes
of odd ideographs;
The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration —
all the wrongs of life pass out through my pores;
At the fifth cup I am purified;
The sixth cup calls me to the realms
of the immortals.
The seventh cup — ah, but I could take no more!
I only feel the breath of the cool wind
that raises in my sleeves.
Where is Elysium? Let me ride on this sweet breeze
and waft away thither.

~ Lu T’ung, T’ang Dynasty 620-907

Did you enjoy sipping this poem, line by line?

I thought it was the perfect way to launch Tea Party Month here at alphabet soup. After all, tea and poetry are sisters. Both should be savored slowly for full appreciation. Both heighten the senses, invite conversation, and prompt reflection.

When you drink a cup of tea or read a poem, you are participating in a ritual that dates back thousands of years. Interestingly enough, the origin of tea is much like the origin of a poem.

In 2737 B.C., as the legend goes, the Chinese Emperor Chen Nung, a scholar and herbalist, was sitting beneath a tree while his servant was boiling a pot of water. A few leaves from a tea plant dropped into the water, and a wonderful aroma emanated. The drink enthralled and enchanted him. His writings touted the medicinal benefits of tea — a drink that healed, uplifted, refreshed and quenched a thirst like no other.

A poem can heal, uplift, refresh, and quench a thirst like no other. Often, quite by accident, an idea floating on a gentle breeze will enter the mind. If allowed to steep, it may find its fragrance and substance amongst the “thousand volumes of odd ideographs” that each of us carries within. Just as a drifting cloud marks the path of invisible air, the words of a poem authenticate human emotion — making the abstract more tangible, giving voice to some of the more ethereal, capricious, and unwieldy textures of experience.

We all yearn for a magic potion, much like we yearn to find part of ourselves in a poem. So we are not unlike the ancients. Tea and poems connect us all, through time and space.

Now, will you have a second cup?

by Jane Kenyon (from Boat of the Quiet Hours, Graywolf Press, 1986)

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper . . .

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me . . .

(Rest is here.)

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Becky’s Book Reviews.


Post your favorite tea time recipes, tea reflections or memories, or favorite tea scenes from books or film, then leave the link in the comments. Or, you may email the recipes to me at readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot com). The party will last all through April, so don your bonnets and white gloves, and sashay on over!