The poetry of Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was an accomplished poet who not only wrote his own work but translated the work of others. He was a man who took poetry so seriously that he even wrote an entire movie script (with the aid of Sterling Silliphant, the screenwriter of the Oscar winning In the Heat of the Night) based off of a poem that he composed. This poem, “The Silent Flute”, was even written into the titular script, set to be delivered as a final monologue for the hero, Cord (originally set to be played by James Coburn, one of Lee’s famous Hollywood students). It concludes:
Now I see that I will never find the light
Unless, like the candle, I am my own fuel,
Consuming myself.
It’s hard not to hear Japanese haiku master Kobayashi Issa in Lee’s voice in the poem “Night Rain”
Sadness broods
over the world
I fear to walk in my garden,
lest I see
a pair of butterflies
disporting in the sun
among the flowers.
Or the traces of Korean poet Yun Dong-ju in “Boating on Lake Washington”
When the clouds float past the moon,
I see them floating in the lake,
And I feel as though I were rowing in the sky.
Suddenly I thought of you—mirrored in my heart.
I suppose it’s not too surprising that the man who taught Steve McQueen martial arts and then went out for chilidogs and milkshakes with him was a poet, but the depth and complexity of his poetry is. Take, for example, the poem “All Streams Flowing East or West” which follows the life cycle of a drop of water cinematically, accompanying the reader as the droplet descends a mountain, rolls over pebbles, nestles into a stream, settles into the ocean, grows into a wave, hammers into rocks only to finish “And with the final thrust the sun/ Throws wave upon the shore/ The jellyfish in weariness/ Nestles in a pool.” I don’t know if I can get over the image of a weary jellyfish, let alone it coming from the dude who sat on a hood of a car with Steve McQueen eating cylindrical meats in quite possibly the most American image this article will see.
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