Poetry and tea

I’ve recently discovered slam poetry in a way somewhat akin to new-found religious fervour. The revelation began with this poem on OCD which led me to poetry legend Sarah Kay (of whom I am now a quasi-disciple). After not having written a poem since primary school, I now find myself secretly penning paragraphs and day-dreaming that ‘one day’ I might recite them in public.

Strangely enough, I find poetry has a number of similarities to tea. Just as good tea is more than just a drink, good poetry is so much more than a string of words. Both are crafted and served by artisans, who take care to create an experience for the recipient. Both, when done well, can create feelings in the body way beyond that of sounds entering the ear or liquid entering the mouth. Tea and poetry can be deeply felt, emotive and sensory experiences.

One reason I am particularly drawn to Chinese & Taiwanese tea is that they are enveloped in a wonderful tea culture which has developed over thousands of years. Pottery, ceremony, poetry.. celebrating tea as so much more than just a beverage! My favourite tea poem is the famous ‘Song of Tea’ by Lu Tung; a poet in the Chinese T’ang dynasty:

The first bowl moistens my lips and throat;

The second bowl banishes all loneliness;

The third bowl clears my mind of words and books.

At the fourth cup, I begin to perspire and

life’s troubles evaporate through my pores.

The fifth cup cleanses my entire being.

Six cups and I am in the realm of the Divine.

Seven cups – ah, but I can drink no more:

I can only feel the gentle breeze blowing though my sleeves,

wafting me away to the Isle of Immortality!

Isn’t this exquisitely evocative! Next time you make yourself tea (and I recommend a very small teapot and cup for this exercise!), try reading these lines with each cup you drink. As you sip, feel yourself imbibe this beautiful, ancient tea wisdom along with your tea. And let me know how you go!

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