Date
30 March 2017
Should Hongkongers put down their umbrellas? Or raise them? A Form 3 pupil's poem (inset) can be read either way. Photo: HKEJ, Eric Windarcher
Should Hongkongers put down their umbrellas? Or raise them? A Form 3 pupil's poem (inset) can be read either way. Photo: HKEJ, Eric Windarcher

Pupil’s poignant palindromic poem praised

A poem written by a pupil in Form 3 went viral in Hong Kong last week after the teacher, Eric Windarcher, uploaded it onto the internet.

The poem, titled “Hold your umbrella”, appears to be pessimistic about the city’s hopes for political freedom in the wake of last year’s failed Umbrella movement and the central government’s tough line on the 2017 election for chief executive.

But there is a twist to it, as observant netizens found.

Whether the poem is read from top to bottom or read from bottom to top, it is clear and coherent, but the meaning is entirely opposite.

Read normally, it says: “Having the right to freely nominate and elect the head of our government by 2017/Is a joke.” 

It encourages the reader to “Give up protesting for political freedom.”/We know it is a lie./People may think Hong Kong is dying./That might be true”.

However, read from bottom to top, the poem says: “Under the pepper spray and tear bomb/The truth is/We can fight against the ruthless government.”

It quotes Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara: “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.”

Netizens said the poem is flawless and praised the writer as a genius.

“It leads adults to feel ashamed that a Secondary 3 student can write a moving poem and can recognize the darkness of society,” one said.

The teacher gave an A grade to the writer, whom he did not name, and wrote in his feedback to the pupil that the poem is very meaningful and encouraging.

Netizens found that the poem was probably inspired by another palindromic poem (one that can be read in both directions), written by a 14 year-old boy in the United States last year.

The subject of the Hong Kong poem is different, however, and just two phrases — “Never will anybody say” and “Unless we turn things around” — appear in both poems. 

Here’s the full version of the Form 3 pupil’s poem:

Hold your umbrella

Our city is dying
Never will [anybody] say
We can fight against the ruthless government.
The truth is
Under the pepper spray and tear bomb
We can never succeed
It is wrong to believe that
We can build our wings and fly high.
Having the right to freely nominate and elect the head of our government by 2017
Is a joke.
We know that
Our goals can only be fulfilled in fairytales,
‘The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall’
Che [Guevara] said.
Can we? Never
Put down your yellow umbrella.
Let the communist Chinese government take away all the core values we treasured.
Give up protesting for political freedom.
We know it is a lie.
People may think Hong Kong is dying.
That might be true,
Unless we turn things around

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CH/JP/FL

EJ Insight intern reporter

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