Editor’s note: below is Richard Berengarten’s specially-written preface to the selection from his large sequence Changing, which appeared in Issue 8. The poems themselves are presented in a special PDF, to preserve their unique formatting. Click here to read them.
Changing is a book-length poem composed between 1984 and 2014, whose structure is based on the I Ching. The patterning of this work is that of the spatio-temporal field (Olson). Its compositional strategies are those of correlative thinking or correlative cosmos-building (Granet and A. C. Graham). Its tissue is resonance: cosmic, magnetic, morphic (Sheldrake).
The two groups of poems published here are based on the third and fourth of the sixty-four hexagrams, Zhun, 屯 and Meng, 蒙. The first poem in each group corresponds to the hexagram itself, while the other six relate to each of the lines in the hexagram. The paratext in italics beneath the grey line at the end of each poem connects the text directly to the I Ching itself. The stanza divisions and mises-en-page suggest the stacked form of the hexagram.
The I Ching or Book of Changes is unique among the books of the world and its story is extraordinary. Its earliest known version, the Zhouyi, meaning the ‘Zhou Changes’, was probably compiled or composed during the last two decades of the ninth century BCE. As Edward Louis Shaughnessy wrote in his ground-breaking thesis (1983): “The Zhouji is incontestably the most important work of China’s long intellectual history.” It started its existence as a divination manual or fortune-telling handbook, a function it still fulfils today nearly three thousand years later.
The I Ching is comparable to the Bible for the huge number of commentaries and works of philosophy, literature and art that it has generated. My own fascination with this ancient book goes back fifty years to early 1962, when I was a nineteen-year old student at Cambridge. Over the years, Changing has grown, slowly but surely, out of that fascination.
RB, February 2015
ABOUT THE POET
RICHARD BERENGARTEN was born in London in 1943 into a family of musicians. In 1975, he founded the international Cambridge Poetry Festival, which ran until 1985. He has lived in Italy, Greece, Serbia, Croatia and the USA, and has worked extensively in Eastern Europe and Russia. His poetry integrates English, European, Slavic, Jewish, Mediterranean, American and oriental traditions. His many books include For the Living: Selected Longer Poems 1965-2000, In a Time of Drought, The Blue Butterfly, Under Balkan Light, Imagems 1, Manual and Notness. He is recipient of various literary awards in the UK, Serbia and Macedonia: The Blue Butterfly provided the Veliki školski čas memorial-oratorio for Nazi massacre-victims in Kragujevac (Serbia, 2007), and his poetry has been translated into more than ninety languages. A former Arts Council of Great Britain Writer-in-Residence at the Victoria Adult Education Centre, Gravesend, Visiting Professor at the University of Notre Dame, British Council Lector in Belgrade, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge, he is currently a Preceptor at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, a Bye-Fellow at Downing College, an Academic Associate at Pembroke College, a Fellow of the English Association, and poetry editor of the Jewish Quarterly.