Keith Holyoak



Keith Holyoak, poet, translator of classical Chinese poetry, and cognitive scientist, was raised on a dairy farm in British Columbia, Canada. He received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia, and his Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University. A professor of Psychology, first at the University of Michigan and since 1986 at the University of California, Los Angeles, Holyoak has published over 150 papers and books. He was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Society. He serves on the Board of Directors for Xunesis, a company dedicated to finding creative ways of linking science with the arts. His poems have been published in numerous literary magazines in the US, England and Canada, including The London Magazine, Envoi, Candelabrum Poetry Magazine, Poem, The Lyric, Red Rock Review, Bellowing Ark and The Eclectic Muse. In addition to Yeats, Frost, and the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, Holyoak has been influenced by the classical Chinese poetry of Li Bai and Du Fu (aka Li Po and Tu Fu), whose poems he has translated and published in magazines in the US, England and New Zealand. His spoken-word poetry CDs can be purchased by clicking here, and his books by clicking here.



Thoughts Written While Traveling at Night
A translation of a poem by Du Fu (712-770 CE)

      The fine grass
by the riverbank stirs in the breeze;
      the tall mast
in the night is a lonely sliver.

      Stars hang
all across the vast plain;
      the moon bobs
in the flow of the great river.

      My poetry
has not made a name for me;
      now age and sickness
have cost me the post I was given.

      Drifting, drifting,
what do I resemble?
      A lone gull
lost between earth and heaven.

Copyright 2004; originally printed in Candelabrum Poetry Magazine



(The Meaning of Life Revealed) Upon Waking Up Drunk on a Spring Day
A translation of a poem by Li Bai (701-762 CE)

Life in this world is just a glorious dream,
So why should we sweat and toil our lives away?
Be lazy—pour yourself wine, and always stay drunk
Like me, laid out here on the porch all day
Until I woke up, and spied among the courtyard’s
Blossoming flowers one small songbird at play.
“Little friend,” I inquired, “Could you kindly tell me the season?”
The wandering warbler sang on the breeze of May—
Spring already! I only could heave a sigh,
Pour some more wine, and down it without delay.
Then loudly I sang, awaiting the bright moonrise.
My song has ended—I forget what I meant to say!

Copyright 2005; originally printed in Candelabrum Poetry Magazine



Going to Visit the Daoist Master on Dai-tian Mountain But Not Finding Him
A translation of a poem by Li Bai (701-762 CE)

      A dog barks
amidst the sound of water;
      peach blossoms
hang heavy with dewdrops.

      In the deep forest
I glimpse a passing deer;
      the rushing brook
muffles the noonday bells.

      Wild bamboos
slice through the green mist;
      streams in flight
hang between emerald peaks.

      Nobody knows
where the master has gone—
      left to wonder,
I rest among some pines.

Copyright 2005; originally printed in Candelabrum Poetry Magazine



Drinking Alone Under the Moon
A translation of a poem by Li Bai (701-762 CE)

Alone among the flowers with a jug of wine,
Without a single friend to drink with me,
I lift my glass and invite the bright moon to come
Join in—now the moon, my shadow and I make three.

I know the moon is not a famous drinker,
My shadow’s toast no more than mimicry,
And yet for a little while the three of us
Carouse in springtime camaraderie.

I sing, and the moon sways to and fro in rhythm;
I dance, and my shadow floats in harmony.
Drinking, we share our joys with one another;
After, we’ll need to find them separately.

Let’s meet again, at the end of the Silver River,
And there, my friends, resume our revelry!

Copyright 2005; originally printed in Candelabrum Poetry Magazine



The Private Loves of Mr. and Mrs. Chen


“Daughter, close the blinds!” cried Mrs. Chen
One springtime morning when she began to die
In earnest. Puzzled, Dienlin asked her, “Why
Do you lie so late in bed today, and when
Will you come downstairs? Look at the world outside—
Below the mansions high on the slopes, the towers
Of commerce gleam—right now, from one of ours
Father watches his laden freighters glide
Through the harbor. Come and watch them too,
Drifting like seabirds beneath the dragon-green
Mountains that crown the peninsula.”
                                                                   “I’ve seen
Those ghost ships sail—I’ve held the world in view
So long,” sighed Mrs. Chen, “but love has fled,
So draw the blinds down tight on my death bed.”

          A springtime rain never
          Felt so fresh and warm
          As the time that young man’s
          Voice first made me quiver,
          Caught me up in his storm
          Of dreams and bold plans.


“She’s old,” the doctors said, “so old and frail.”
They went away. Day after day Dienlin
Washed her, combed her hair, set her hairpin,
Carefully polished her every fingernail.
Early each morning Mr. Chen dressed up
In suit and tie, then sat in her corner chair
And watched over them. He sometimes said a prayer.
All day he watched, and only would sip a cup
Of tea that Dienlin brought him. Finally
His daughter pleaded, “Father, come speak to mother!
She grows so weak—there may not be another
Chance.”
                 “Too late,” he said, “she can’t hear me.”
Next morning at dawn, after his wife had died,
Mr. Chen still sat in her corner chair, and cried.

           Two wild orchids pinned
           In her long black braids
           Glistened in the springtime rain—
           I was so jealous of the wind
           Furtively stroking that maid’s
           Skin, again and again.


Copyright 2002; originally printed in The London Magazine



The Kiss

A roaring highway disconnects
The sandy beach from a bus-stop bench,
Golden youth in springtime flower
From sidewalks home to wasted men:
There ocean air, here city stench;
There sun-bronzed bodies, here old wrecks
Whose luck ran out when pain began
To soak right through each waking hour.

A tunnel burrowing underground
Connects the beach to cityside.
A vagrant sits, all vacant stare,
Waits for a bus—to where, who knows?
Their beach-day done, two lovers glide
From out the tunnel, arms wound round
Each other’s waists—the girl’s face glows
As her boyfriend stoops to kiss her there.

His lips seek hers—she suddenly
Breaks free, turns, runs to the homeless one
To stroke his rough gray-whiskered cheek,
To press her lips on his in a kiss.
She slips away like the setting sun—
Just gone, with no apology.
The old man weighs his glimpse of bliss
Against a pain he did not seek.

Copyright 2005; originally printed in Citizen 32



The Cougar

At dawn I took my boat and crossed
Over to Sonora Island. No one
Lives there now since the last logger
Left, and the young firs and pines
Hide the deer well. I held my gun
Loose as I hiked a road long lost
In moss and nettles, watchful for signs
Of deer. I never heard the cougar.

I was the only man on the island
That day in November. It felt good
To walk alone into the breeze
And drizzle, kicking away the brown
Alder leaves blown from the wood
To the path. Where a creek spanned
The road I paused, and knelt down
To drink. Something made me freeze.

Slowly, slowly, I turned. The great cat
Who followed behind was watching me.
He crouched low and long on the road,
Low and long and golden against
The leaves, watching pensively,
A damp sphinx of the woods. He sat
So still, tail sinuous, that I sensed
He could watch me forever; or explode.

Meant for the moon, those yellow eyes
Glowing through the pale light of noon,
Those eyes meant to prowl the dark
Met mine in mutual appraisal,
As one man on an island paused to commune
With one cat. I spoke first. “A wise
Cat does not trifle with a loaded rifle.”
He listened quietly to my remark.

But the cat did not bother to answer.
I aimed, and touched the trigger, waiting—
For what, I could not say. A man,
A cat, we shared some time alone;
I lowered my gun, reciprocating
His silent gaze. The golden panther
Moved off through the trees, and was gone.
I camped there, and listened to the quiet rain.

Copyright 2004; originally printed in The London Magazine