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Travelling with the I Ching.



Under A Blazing April Sun

The six unbroken yang lines of this hexagram
represent Heaven| the purest energy

and I’m reminded of Mr Zhi at Bai Xu Kiln
showing us his ancient hometown village

under a blazing April sun| escorting us
around old landowner houses he’d bought

to restore| to fulfil his dream of initiating
an artists’ cooperative| to lure the young folk

home from cities with the promise of work
and a pride in preserving their local heritage

The oracle-bone etching shows a shoot of grass
above the sun| with the root of a plant below

and we watched with his sculptor-wife and daughter
as he inscribed our porcelain bowls in calligraphy

his face not telling of his fame and following
only of the twenty resolute years in Beijing

Qian • Initiating











The ancient I Ching concept of genesis is thunder and clouds
the sacred breath is the presage of storm before the action

of water feeds the latent seed| It has gathered life-force
all winter and now| as portrayed in this ideograph’s

tender image| breaks through the pressure of surrounding soil
and with a whole-hearted impulse like desire grows into a shoot

And I think of my first and longed-for Chinese venture
when despite my efforts everything felt confused and scattered


Unpacking in Chengdu| I searched for my tiny Buddha amulet
the way Proust kissed his agate marble to invoke his beloved’s heart

I conjured him as if nursing an injured bird even as instinct told me
to trust that he’d appear once my jet-addled brain had cleared

I thought of the fires my twin had witnessed in Australia
the rejoicing when life burgeoned again| Now the New Year

and my Chinese friends tell me there’s a re-assessment of values
at grass-roots| For as a seed sprouts a mother’s waters break

Zhun • Beginning









Loved Ones Mummified in Mud


We were hurtling at terrifying speed on roads awash
with river flood and debris| visibility worsening

with each hairpin turn until Oscar from Santiago
and Guillermo from Buenos Aires beseeched the driver

to slow down and keep in lane| The structure of this sign
with Mountain above and Earth below symbolises

a falling away| as in landslide or avalanche or in human
terms the process of a collapsing politico-moral system


Today in Brazil they’re still counting the missing and dead
the bereaved of Brumadinho beside themselves with grief

and rage as loved ones are excavated mummified in mud
For any country’s next catastrophy| they laid that place

waste and turned back| the beauty of this ancient ideoogram
is a double-edged knife and sword| When the influence

of yin declines| yang grows like the moon’s waxing
and waning| but the tool depends on the hand that wields1

Bo • Falling Away 







Releasing the Bow-String in Pouring Rain
The key is in seeking harmony

The ancient oracle bone etching on the left of this ideograph
still means eye today| Within the whole symbol it represents

people’s distinct fields of vision| while the image on the right
of an arrow passing between the backs of a pair of hands

signifies inclusion and similarity within difference| It reflects
the dynamic of experience I’m gaining outside my native country

as writer and editor in a time-flash of the present in a fragment
of this immense nation’s whole| A gift of generosity and trust


En route in torrential rain to the Zhaojue mountains in Sichuan
we stop at a Centre for the Practice of Archery| A quiver full

of shafts stands upright in a puddle| I draw my bow-string as far
as I can before releasing the arrow which scores between two rings

Next day lunching in the sunny foothills| local men fry us chunks
of succulent pork and duck in cauldrons placed above coke fires

Responding to my delight| a woman whispers Yes we love our country
but not our prisons| and I freely confide that I’m ashamed of mine

Kui • Diversity








The Wide-Brimmed Straw Hat


As hens preened in the cooperative’s yard a farmer appeared
from a barn| Nî hăo I said and he let me take a photo

as he shifted his awkward load squinting under his wide-
brimmed straw hat| Xièxiè I said bowing my head

unaware of this hexagram| that it represents Fire above
Heaven| symbolises the sun radiating heat and light

to myriad beings on Earth| A sign of prosperity
and abundance in the spirit of seeking harmony


And the upper pictogram of a human being signifies
‘great man’ while the image of a hand above a moon

three fingers in the act of grasping the moon reveals
the transitory nature of possessions and pride and greed

I was staggered by the size| unwieldy bundles of hemp
the farmer clenched under each arm| scales of balance

for equal sharing| An air of hope as I strolled| The scent
of orange| Pairs of blue overalls pegged arm-to-arm on a line2

Da You • Great Harvest 












Lucy Hamilton works freelance for Cam Rivers Publishing (a partnership between UK and China based at King’s College, Cambridge), and has enjoyed several trips to China. She has two books with Shearsman and is currently working on a collection which draws upon her experiences in China, and on the I Ching.

Sophie (Jianghong) Song (calligraphy) was born and grew up in China. She worked as public relations coordinator in Xiamen University and had a part time job as radio presenter in Xiamen Economic and Transportation Station. She now works for Cam Rivers Publishing, and lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children.


  1. The quote is from Yang Lian’s Narrative Poem (translated by Brian Holton, Bloodaxe Books, 2017).
  2. Nî hăo means Hello; Xièxiè is Thank you

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