The Three Genjias

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The Story of the Three Genjias

Poetry: Eavan Boland

Musical Focus: Mercan Dede


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23: How weird Is That?

Evangelicals eyed in Brazil

2012 and the Old Equator


Mercan Dede


The Story of the Three Genjias

Once upon a time in a certain place there lived three men who all had the same name — Genjia. One was the tribal chief, the second a carpenter, and the third the chief’s steward.

Genjia the carpenter was married to an exceptionally beautiful woman. Genjia the steward fancied her and dreamt day and night of having her for himself. But she was a very upright woman and would not let him get anywhere near her. Finally, he was driven to find some way of killing the carpenter in order to attain his end.

After a while, the father of Genjia the chief died. The steward saw in this a golden opportunity for eliminating the carpenter. Every day he secretly studied the calligraphy of the Buddhist scriptures and succeeded in reproducing the old-fashioned and esoteric style in which they were written. He then wrote a document in this style and handed it to the chief, saying, “Master, here is a document I came across the other day. I cannot understand a word of it and have brought it here specially for you to decipher.”

Genjia the chief was baffled by the writing and passed it on to his secretary in charge of documents. After reading it, the secretary said, “This document claims to be from the old chief. In it he says that he has ascended to heaven and is now serving as an official there, but he doesn’t have an official mansion. He asks you, Master, to send him a carpenter — the most skilled you have — to direct the construction of such a mansion.”

Genjia the chief thought constantly of his father and was most concerned to hear that he had nowhere to lay his head in heaven. He sent for Genjia the carpenter, showed him the document and ordered him to go to heaven at once.

Genjia the carpenter was greatly startled. He dared not refuse, however, and could only plead for time, “How could I disobey your order, Master! But I need some time to prepare. Please allow me seven days. After that time, please hold a Twig Burning Ceremony in the hemp field behind my house to send me off. Then I’ll be able to ascend to heaven to build the mansion for the old chief.”

Genjia the chief considered this request reasonable and willingly agreed.

When Genjia the carpenter left, he went round making a few investigations. He wanted to find out where the chief had got this idea. He eventually discovered that it had originated in a classical document found by Genjia the steward. He put two and two together and concluded that it must be a sinister plot against him hatched by the steward.

He went home and consulted with his wife. “The most absurd thing has happened. The chief wants me to go and build a mansion in heaven. He must have been tricked into it by Genjia the steward. I did not dare refuse, but asked him to hold a Twig Burning Ceremony behind our house before I go. It would be no use trying to disobey him now. There is only one way for me to get out of this alive. The two of us must dig a tunnel under cover of night leading from the field to our bedroom, and then you can hide me there later. In a year’s time I will find some way to get even.”

The wife was shocked by this tale. Hatred for the steward filled the very marrow of her bones. She was willing to do anything to save her husband. So every day when night fell, the two of them dug the tunnel in secret. On the seventh day it was completed. They sealed the entrance with a slab of stone and scattered soil on it, so that people wouldn’t notice it.

The eighth day came, the day for the carpenter to ascend to heaven. At the head of a retinue of elders and stewards and with a great din of bugles and drums, the chief came to send him off. They made a pile of faggots in the hemp field and asked Genjia the carpenter to sling his tool-kit over his shoulder and carry his bag in one hand. They made him stand in the middle, lit the faggots and watched the smoke rise, “carrying him up to heaven”.

Genjia the steward was afraid that as soon as the faggots were lit, the carpenter would spoil everything by crying out in terror. “Come on !” he shouted to the crowd. “Blow your bugles and beat your drums! Laugh and cheer! Genjia the carpenter is on his way to heaven to build a mansion for our old chief. Isn’t that a wonderful thing!”

The chief came over to have a look. Genjia the steward pointed gleefully to the rising smoke and said, “Master, you see, there goes his horse. Genjia the carpenter is on his way to heaven.”

The chief was delighted.

The moment the faggots were lit and the smoke began rising into the sky, Genjia the carpenter raised the slab and escaped through the tunnel back to his own bedroom.

He confined himself to his house for a whole year. His wife went to great lengths to find milk, butter and other nutritious food for him; and as he did no work, by the end of that year he was plumper and fairer-skinned than ever.

Meanwhile, Genjia the steward tried a thousand and one ways of seducing the carpenter’s wife, and she tried a thousand and one ways of avoiding him. He failed completely to attain his goal.

While Genjia the carpenter was hiding at home, he diligently practiced the calligraphy of the Buddhist scriptures. He prepared a document written in the authentic style and kept it on his person. On the first anniversary of his “ascent to heaven” he went and stood on the very spot where he was supposed to have been burned, the same tool-kit on his shoulder and the same bag in his hand. He called out, “How is everybody? I’ve just got back from heaven.”

His wife was the first to come out. She pretended to be extremely surprised and hurried over to report the news to the chief.

The chief was very happy when he heard that Genjia the carpenter was back. He gave him a hero’s welcome with bugles and drums, and invited him to stay in his mansion. He wanted to find out how his father was faring in heaven.

On meeting the chief, Genjia the carpenter said in a very serious tone of voice, “When I was constructing the official mansion in heaven, the old chief treated me with exceptional kindness, just as you always do, Master. That’s why I’m in such good shape! The mansion is finished, and what a magnificent building it is — ten times the size of an earthly mansion! Only one thing is lacking: a steward. The old chief misses his old steward dearly. He very much wants the steward to go up to heaven and manage things for him. After a period of time he can come back.” This said, he promptly produced the document and showed it to the chief, adding that it was the old chief who had asked him to bring it down.

Genjia the chief read the document and was totally convinced by the whole story. Presently he sent for Genjia the steward and asked him to go and work for the old chief in his newly-built mansion in heaven.

When Genjia the steward saw Genjia the carpenter standing there and looking so well after his “ascent to heaven,” and when he heard the vivid description of heaven given by the carpenter, he just didn’t know what to think. “Perhaps I really possess some sort of magic power”, he thought to himself. “It was my idea for him to go to heaven, and he actually seems to have done so! Perhaps it really is possible to fly to heaven, and the old chief really does have a new mansion there!”

He followed the carpenter’s example and asked for seven days to get ready, and a Twig Burning Ceremony to be held in the hemp field behind his house to send him off to heaven. He thought that since Genjia the carpenter could come back, he could too. On the eighth day, as on the previous occasion, Genjia the steward stood in the middle of the faggots with a box on his shoulder and a bag in his hand. As on the previous occasion, there was a great din of bugles and drums, and the chief gave the order to light the faggots and send him off to heaven.

But the outcome this time was somewhat different. One difference was that after everything was over, a pile of charred bones was found among the ashes. Another difference was that the steward never came back. He stayed on in heaven forever to help the old chief run his mansion.


Göksel Baktagir – Mercan Dede


Poetry: Eavan Boland

Daphne With Her Thighs In Bark

I have written this

so that,

in the next myth,

my sister will be wiser.

Let her learn from me:

the opposite of passion

is not virtue

but routine.

I can be cooking,

making coffee,

scrubbing wood, perhaps,

and back it comes:

the crystalline, the otherwhere,

the wood

where I was

when he began the chase.

And how I ran from him!


satyr-faced he was.

The trees reached out to me.

I silvered and I quivered. I shook out

My foil of quick leaves.

He snouted past.

What a fool I was!

I shall be here forever,

setting out the tea,

among the coppers and the branching alloys and

the tin shine of this kitchen;

laying saucers on the pine table.

Save face, sister.

Fall. Stumble.

Rut with him.

His rough heat will keep you warm and

you will be better off than me,

with your memories

down the garden,

at the start of March,

unable to keep your eyes

off the chestnut tree –

just the way

it thrusts and hardens.

Child Of Our Time

for Aengus

Yesterday I knew no lullaby

But you have taught me overnight to order

This song, which takes from your final cry

Its tune, from your unreasoned end its reason;

Its rhythm from the discord of your murder

Its motive from the fact you cannot listen.

We who should have known how to instruct

With rhymes for your waking, rhythms for your sleep,

Names for the animals you took to bed,

Tales to distract, legends to protect,

Later an idion for you to keep

And living, learn, must learn from you, dead.

To make our broken images rebuild

Themselves around your limbs, your broken

Image, find for your sake whose life our idle

Talk has cost, a new language. Child

Of our time, our times have robbed your cradle.

Sleep in a world your final sleep has woken.

The Atlantic Ocean

This stone, this Spanish stone, flings light

Like acid in my eyes. Walls splice the day.

Our freighter chokes, then belches anthracite,

Fresh water up by noon. We are away.

A shrivelled Europe faces

Starboard. Our guzzling boat

Bloats on fish, swallows, chases

The anchor down its throat.

Waves are conjurors, splashes sleeves,

Up which aces of past and future hide.

One man finds love, another what he grieves

By watching. To me they are another side

Of life, not one to do

With retrospect or manners

But with the ballyhoo

Of war, the hoist of banners.

Out of this ocean now, its menacing storms,

Out of its cryptic structures, its tribal

Tides, out of its secret order, from the cabal

Of trade wind and water, look, a Soviet forms!

A squad of drops batters

The sky for a second, wears

Out its force, then turns and tears

Each imperial crest to tatters.

The waves are agitating now, the sea

Itself becomes the theatre of the battle.

Lesser waves congregate, they settle

On a policy for all. All agree

Not to abandon their will

To fight, their fierce airs

Their stormy posture until

Victory is theirs.

So what has started well can flourish still,

As for example, underneath the tide

The marvel of structured self-protecting coral –

Now a milestone, sure to be a guide

To the she-whale, the sperm-whale nosing

Clear of the shark, the porpoises

Braceleting the ships’ bows.

The octopus intricately dozing.

No wonder it beats like an alternate heart in me,

No wonder its drops fill and fall from my eyes

In familiar drops. It’s in the family.

At last I see, at last I recognize

In its wild station,

Its ice and riot, its other

Prowess, of my revolution

The elder brother.

Listen, This is the Noise of Myth

this is the story of a man and a woman

under a willow and beside a weir

near a river in a wooded clearing.

They are fugitives. Intimates of myth.

Fictions of my purpose. I suppose

I shouldn’t say that yet or at least

before I break their hearts or save their lives

I ought to tell their stories and I will.

When they went first it was winter; cold,

cold through the Midlands and as far West

as they could go. They knew they had to go –

through Meath, Westmeath, Longford,

their lives unraveling like the hours of light –

and then there were lambs under the snow

and it was January, aconite and jasmine

and the hazel yellowing and puce berries on the ivy.

They could not eat where they had cooked,

nor sleep where they had eaten

nor at dawn rest where they had slept.

They shunned the densities

of trees with one trunk and of caves

with one dark and dangerous embrace

of islands with a single landing place.

And all the time it was cold, cold:

the fields still gardened by their ice,

the trees stitched with snow overnight,

the ditches full; frost toughening lichen,

darning lace into rock crevices.

And then the woods flooded and buds

blunted from the chestnut and the foxglove

put its big leaves out and chaffinches

chinked and flirted in the branches of the ash.

And here we are where we started from –

under a willow and beside a weir

near a river in a wooded clearing.

The woman and the man have come to rest.

Look how light is coming through the ash.

The weir sluices kingfisher blues.

The woman and the willow tree lean forward, forward.

Something is near, something is about to happen;

Something more than spring

and less than history. Will we see

hungers eased after months of hiding?

Is there a touch of heat in that light?

If they stay here soon it will be summer; things

returning, sunlight fingering minnowy deeps

seedy greens, reeds, electing lights

and edges from the river. Consider

legend, self-deception, sin, the sum

of human purpose and its end; remember

how our poetry depends on distance,

aspect: gravity will bend starlight.

Forgive if I set the truth to rights.

Bear with me if I put an end to this:

she never turned to him; she never leaned

under the sallow-willow over to him.

They never made love; not there; not here;

not anywhere; there was no winter journey;

no aconite, no birdsong and no jasmine,

no river and no woodland and no weir.

Listen. This is the noise of myth. It makes

the same sound as shadow. Can you hear it?

Daylight grays in the preceptories.

Her head begins to shine

pivoting the planets of a harsh nativity.

They were never mine. This is mine.

This sequence of evicted possibilities.

Displaced facts. Tricks of light. Reflections.

Invention. Legend. Myth. What you will.

The shifts and fluencies are infinite.

The moving parts are marvelous. Consider

how the bereavements of the definite

Are easily lifted from our heroine.

She may or she may not. She was or wasn’t

by the water at his side as dark

waited above the Western countryside.

O consolations of the craft.

How we put

the old poultices on the old sores,

the same mirrors to the old magic. Look.

The scene returns. The willow sees itself

drowning in the weir and the woman

gives the kiss of myth her human heat.

Reflections. Reflections. He becomes her lover.

The old romances make no bones about it.

The long and the short of it. The end and the beginning.

The glories and the ornaments are muted.

And when the story ends the song is over.

Eavan Boland is an Irish poet.

Boland was born in Dublin on 24 September 1944. Her father, Frederick Boland was a career diplomat and her mother was the post-expressionist painter, Frances Kelly.

She was educated in London and New York as well as in her native Dublin; graduating from Trinity College with a first class honors degree in English Literature. In 2004 she received an honorary degree from Trinity.

Eavan Boland’s first book of poetry was “New Territory” published in 1967 with Dublin publisher Allen Figgis. This was followed by “The War Horse” (1975), In Her Own Image (1980) and Night Feed (1982), which established her reputation as a writer on the ordinary lives of women and on the difficulties faced by women poets in a male-dominated literary world.

Boland’s publications also include: An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967-1987 (1996), Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990 (1990), and a prose memoir Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time (1995). Her collection In a Time of Violence (1994) received a Lannan Award and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize. All of her volumes of poetry have been Poetry Book Society Choices in the UK.In the United States her publisher is W.W.Norton. Her volume of poems “Against Love Poetry” (W.W. Norton 2001) was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

She is co-editor of The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms (with Mark Strand; W. W. Norton & Co., 2000). She also published a volume of translations in 2004 called After Every War (Princeton University Press). The translations are of German-speaking women poets.

Boland has taught at a number of universities, including Trinity College, Dublin. She was also writer in residence at Trinity College, Dublin, and at the National Maternity Hospital.

She is currently Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and Melvin and Bill Lane Professor for Director of the Creative Writing program there.

She is married to author Kevin Casey; they have two daughters.


Mercan Dede….

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