A Journey to the East by Evan Mantyk is a historical and poetical fairytale adventure styled after Journey to the West, by Ming Dynasty writer Wu Cheng’en. The first nine chapters of the former may be read here.


I. The Mighty Monkey King Confronts an Appointment Request Form Outside the Jade Emperor’s Palace

A maze of questions trapped the Monkey King
That asked not just his name, but everything:
Where was he born? Who were his references?
Did he have any beverage preferences?
What kind of meeting? One with just the staff?
A quick exchange or hour and a half?
Had he prepared the proper court attire?
Or made appropriate offerings in fire?
Who was his lawyer in case it got messy?
Had all requests been written out expressly?
What was his father’s name and place of birth?
Was he from Heaven or was he from Earth?
How much? How long? How short? Where, when, and why?
What name? What place? What date? Check all that apply.


II. At the Pond of Eternal Reflection

Reflecting on the days gone by,
Reflecting face within the water,
Reflecting light upon a sigh,
Reflecting on the pain and laughter,
Reflecting on the scenes once done,
Replaying right before the eyes,
Reflecting battles that were won
That flow on ripples as they rise.


III. The Heroes Visit the Underworld

The horrors of Hell are unthinkably bleak:
There’s flames from the ground and a blood-curdling shriek!
There’s demons who work on a poor wretch they’re flaying;
There’s putrid aromas from sinners decaying.

There’s Sisyphus painfully pushing a boulder
That’s tearing his hands and dislodging his shoulder,
And when to the top of the slope he arrives;
Immediately back to the bottom it drives!

Titỳus is strapped down and left to be eaten
By vultures who punish the deeds of this cretin.
They pull out his liver and gobble it up,
And then it grows back, and again they will sup!

There’s Tantalus wishing to grab for some fruit,
But reaches and reaches in fruitless pursuit,
And bends down to water to quench his dry thirst
But water recedes, for this man has been cursed!

The horrible scenes of the horror that’s Hell
Are better to turn from, and not too much dwell,
Yet let them remind both the old and the young,
Committers of evil will later be wrung!


IV. Viewing the Gardens of Heaven

The mountain mists of Heaven part,
___Revealing a valley of gardens below,
Their branches waiting to impart
___Delectable fruits that no mortal could know.
Their paths and streams pull on the heart,
___And beckon the soul to return to the flow,
To enter fables real beyond art—
___A grace, a sweet cleansing, if one could just go!


V. The Heroes Leave Heaven and Descend to Earth

It is a noble scene on time’s vast sea
When you step off the pier from Heaven’s shore:
The noxious wind from Earth blows savagely,
But onward into empty space you soar.
The Moon’s the last good port that you must pass;
The shimmering stars are friends who wave goodbye;
Your dreams of home are vibrant nebula gas
Mountains disappearing from the eye.
A single thought, “To save all sentient beings,”
Keeps you heading toward the briny waves
That soak and weigh down gods, thus making weaklings
Who forget just how a god behaves.
At last, there’s only aching flesh onshore,
An inkling you once passed through Heaven’s door.




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10 Responses

  1. James Sale

    I particularly like the heroic nature of this poetry, including the katabasis – where every hero(-ine) has to descend into hell if they are to prove their ‘truth’ and their worth. This leads to “To save all sentient beings”, a messianic vision indeed. Some beautiful writing here.

    • Evan Mantyk

      Thank you, James. The story, an experiment to be sure, somehow naturally led there and, accordingly, led to probably one of the most standout poems of the bunch. Dante was really on to something! Such journeys also provide some of the most interesting moments in Homer’s Odyssey, in my opinion.

  2. Sally Cook

    Do you think the tortures of hell ever exist on earth? If so, must we repeat them later in that actual place, or have we already endured them?? One thought-provoking poem –
    age-old questions for all poets.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Sally, we know, of course, that unspeakable horrors have occurred on earth and continue today. As for your second question, I’m sure that (if Evan is wise) Evan will tell you that he is not qualified to answer that question. As you say, he was provoking thought, which is never a bad idea (unless one has something to hide).

    • Evan Mantyk

      All I can say for sure is that Heaven and Hell exist. I try not to think too much about the horrors of Hell, as the poem suggests, unless the Muse takes me there for a glimpse.

  3. C.B. Anderson

    Evan, I loved this, if only for the audacity of confronting universal themes in a modern formal manner. I particularly liked IV, which reminded me of a short poem by Rumi:

    Come to the orchard in Spring.
    There is light and wine, and sweethearts
    in the pomegranate flowers.

    If you do not come, these do not matter.
    If you do come, these do not matter.

    I was told by a Shiite Iranian that Rumi’s poems generally rhymed in Farsi. We never had a discussion about metrics.

    Poetry, like the game of chess, spans many cultures and many centuries.

    • Evan Mantyk

      IV was my most experimental in terms of meter and rhyme. The lines’ alternating between iambic and anapestic (with the first syllable clipped) tetrameter and the two rhymes repeating to give slightly saccachrine taste were both meant to emphasize the pulling of the heart’s strings, simulating the longing for something out of reach.
      I’m glad you liked it!

  4. David Watt

    Evan, poem I., being comprised almost entirely of questions, also struck me as experimental, and refreshingly out of the ordinary.

    Due to the vivid description of torments faced by each hero, poem III. remains my favorite.

    • Evan Mantyk

      Thank you, David! The first is meant to be a satire on mindless bureaucracy. In general, I used the form of the classic Chinese novel, which is a regular prose narrative that is full of poems directly inserted in the text to accent whatever parts the writer chooses. This way the poems can play directly off the context of what is happening in the narrative and build a larger story, which can be more fun to write and more appealing to the casual reader (in theory). Whether such poems can stand on their own, as I have attempted above, is left for readers to tell. If interested, you can download the entire nine chapters of the attempted work, including the prose narrative and more poems (that didn’t work so well on their own) at the top of the post. Thank you for reading.

  5. Euthymes

    Great! Very touching.

    The book is very funny and interesting as well.


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