Chinese Tang Poetry

POEMS FROM THE TANG

translated by Frederick Turner and Y. D.

Contents

Introduction 4
Two Buddhist poems: Shen Xiu, Hui-Neng 26
Luobin Wang 26
Wang Bo 27
Chen Zi-ang 28
Zhang Jiu Ling 29
Wang Zhihuan 30
Meng Haoran 31
Wang Changling 32-33
Wang Wan 34
Wang Wei 35-40
Li Bai 41-56
Gao Shi 57-58
Cui Hao 59-60
Liu Changqing 61
Du Fu 62-80
Chen Sen 81-83
Chang Jian 84
Liu Changqin 84
Jin Changxu 84
Wei Yingwu 85
Lu Lun 85
Yi Li 86
Li Kangcheng 86
Meng Jiao 87
Han Kong 88
Wang Jian 89
Han Yu 90
Zhang Ji 91-93
Master Han Shan 94
Liu Yuxi 95-96
Bai Juyi 97-101
Liu Zongyuan 102-103
Yuan Zhen 104
Jia Dao 104
Lin Shen 105
Cui Hu 105
Li He 106-111
Zhu Qing Yu 112
Du Mu 113-114
Li She 115
Jiao Ran 115
Wen Ting Yun 116
Li Shangyin 117-120
Pi Ri Xiu 121
Wei Zhuang 121
Nie Yizhong 121
Dun Xun He 122
Qin Tao Yu 123
Huang Chao 123
Tan Yong Zhi 124
Fan Zhongyan 124
Su Shi 125

For all my friends in China
INTRODUCTION
The Tang Poets: A Personal View
Frederick Turner

From about the middle of the seventh century to the end of the tenth, one of the most remarkable bodies of poetry in the world was composed in China. It is at once achingly fresh and evocative, and classically sophisticated; perhaps the only Western analogy might be the work of the early Greek lyric poets–now mostly lost–and their great Roman followers, Horace and Virgil. The poems from the period in this anthology are for the most part tiny in physical length and astonishingly uniform in structure and meter–but each one is a unique gem of profound water and unplumbed depth.

These poems were selected from the huge body of classical Tang poetry by my collaborator, a Chinese scholar of distinction who chooses, against my wishes but with characteristic Chinese modesty, to remain anonymous. I do not read or speak more than a few Chinese words; during our work on these poems I avoided using other translations, such as those of Witter Bynner, Ezra Pound, and Kenneth Rexroth, though I was familiar with them before. Thus I must acknowledge my great debt to my nameless colleague, for he was, with the exception of some useful comments and advice from the Chinese philologist Baomei Lin, my only language informant.

These poems roughly overlap the period of the Tang Dynasty, which until its later decline provided an era of peace and prosperity in the heartland of China.. For the Han, China’s largest ethnic group, the Tang period was the pinnacle of Chinese culture and power, the time when China’s “Yang”, or brilliant and positive creative energy, was at its strongest, followed by decline. The poems in this anthology do not represent the entire range of genre, form and subject in Tang poetry, but they are a fair sample. This introduction will address only the poems here, and should not be taken as applying to all of Tang poetry, still less to Chinese poetry as a whole.

Applying, for the sake of crude historical classification, the traditional Western system of cultural periodization—a practice shared with the Chinese themselves, who write of “late Tang,” “High Tang”, etc– we might describe the poets translated here in this way:
*First, the early Tang poets, such as Meng Haoran, Wang Bo, Wang Zhihuang, and especially Wang Changling. We can compare their purity and sweetness of sensibility to such Western figures as Giotto, Ronsard, Saint-Colombe, and Dowland in their respective cultures and artforms.
*Second, the high classicism of Wang Wei, perhaps comparable to Bach or Novalis or Raphael, or–in his perfection of the genre of nature poetry–the great Dutch and English landscape painters.
*Third, the mature classicism of Du Fu, perhaps the greatest of all the Tang poets, his exquisite style enriched with psychological depth and controlled passion. Here the objective and subjective are perfectly balanced, as in the work of such Western figures as Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Mozart.
*Fourth, the great mannerist, Li Bai, a giant in the world of subjective artists. Passionate, turbulent, romantic, mystical, fantastical, but with a strange self-deprecating sense of humor, he explores the strange world of Chinese folklore and the darker and wilder passages of the soul–but always with poetic mastery and dignified grace. Perhaps we can compare him with Caravaggio, Beethoven, Milton.
*Fifth, the great poet of social protest, Bai Juyi, who sees already the signs of Tang cultural and political decadence, and couches his prophetic and moral message in realistic scenes of ordinary life. Here we must turn to the great Romantic novelists, like Balzac, Tolstoy, and Dickens, or to painters like Millet and Van Gogh, or dramatists like Berthold Brecht, for comparisons.
*Sixth, the later Tang poets: Li he, who like Li Bai explores the Chinese fantasyland, the passions, and the surreal mode, but with a quirkier and gentler charm; Du Mu, with his lovely introspective musings; and the last great flowering in Li Shangyin, lover and philosopher, one of the most exquisite poets of retrospection and delicate feeling. Perhaps we might think of such Western “latecomers” as Brahms, Keats, or Caspar David Friedrich.

The Poet-Scholar’s Life

Almost all the recorded Tang poems were composed by poet-scholars who were imperial administrators, or in search of an imperial post, retired or dismissed from such a post, or in voluntary religious retreat from imperial service. The imperial administrator could be as humble as a clerk or as grand as a provincial governor or imperial envoy to the frontier armies; if he remained in the Capital in a position of national responsibility he would have little time or incentive to write, but if his position was that of a minor official he would often be inspired to poetry. More usually he would be sent to the provinces. Wise imperial policy tended to appoint local administrators whose family and childhood home were far away, so as to avoid nepotism and an inter-generational accumulation of local power and wealth that could challenge the distant central government. (To recruit local authorities from distant prefectures was, I believe, the Chinese way of solving the same problem that faced the medieval Christian Church–how to prevent the formation of local dynasties. The Church solved it by enforcing priestly celibacy, so that a priest’s or bishop’s offspring could have no legal title to the church property. Celibacy was the price a priest paid for his power; exile was the price paid by a mandarin. Louis XIV of France solved it by bringing his nobles to Versailles where he could keep an eye on them). One of the great themes of Tang poetry is exile; family, friends, and the sounds, smells and sights of home became achingly dear, and letters very important. The occasional visit by an old fellow-student would be the occasion of bitter-sweet reminiscence, feastings, late night drinking parties, and sad farewells. Many poems are parting gifts to a friend.

The poetry examination, with its intense period of prior study under professional tutors, was the rite of passage by which a scholar entered imperial service. It is a remarkable reflection that perhaps the longest-lasting regime in the world (setting aside the dynastic struggles of the emperors, and the invasion and swift assimilation of foreign rulers) was the Chinese civil service–and its major qualification was the passing of an examination in poetry! Perhaps this is one reason why China is the only surviving ancient civilization that still uses the same writing system, and the written language of Confucius still remains vivid for modern Chinese. Ernest Fenollosa, like some Chinese scholars, traces the decline after the Tang period to a change of emphasis in the examination system from the composition of original poetry to memorization of Confucian texts—in Chinese terms, a loss of the Yang element in the certification process. For the Tang writer the examinations served as a common ordeal, cementing together in a bond of mutual understanding poets from a hundred corners of China and centuries of Chinese history. A pure and refined poetic vocabulary was hammered out, which was capable of an extraordinary range of delicate nuance, detailed observation, and emotional power.

The ethics and religion of the scholar-poet-administrator were fundamentally Confucian. The prime directive was the perfection of one’s own character in virtue and self-restraint through the discipline of letters and the correct performance of pious duty; and the purpose of this purifying discipline was to prepare the scholar to serve the Emperor in the just and wise administration of the State. Piety included love for one’s family; respect for one’s superiors; ritual observance to one’s ancestors, to the traditional Chinese deities, and to the emperor; the just and honest conduct of governmental business; and military service as required. But such a life was recognized by most poets to be incomplete without a more meditative and even mystical dimension. Daoist communion with nature and Buddhist retreat for the refreshment of the soul were necessary counterbalances for the worldly cares, vanities, and corruptions of court or command. It was always risky to tell truth to power in China as anywhere else, and such truth-telling was a Confucian duty. In retirement or in dismissal a scholar-poet’s religious and ethical life would turn toward Taoist and Buddhist worldviews and practices. He would relinquish ego in search of the secrets of nature and of the soul.

The life of the scholar/administrator supplied many of the major themes of Tang poetry. There is the poem of homesickness; the poet in the wintry western mountains, for instance, hears a familiar melody played on an alien type of flute and misses the southern willows in the spring wind (Wang Zhihuan’s ” A Song of Liang Zhou”). Or looking at the moon over the sea he thinks of distant friends doing the same thing. Then there is the Horatian poem about the rustic wine-party with an old friend and colleague. Or the farewell drunken feast, as the poet in disfavor prepares to depart for a remote post far from the capital (Li Bai’s wild and desperate “Bring in the Wine: a Drinking Song”). There is the farewell or parting poem, usually to a friend but sometimes to the beloved wife; and the poem of political exile written to distant friends, yearning for a role in the just reform of government. And there is the war poem, celebrating and mourning the great exploits and sufferings of the frontier; here China’s vast Wild West stretches before us, its deserts barred with snow, its distant mountains brooded over by blue clouds. In retirement there is the peace or the grief of an old age that is either serene and wealthy, or lonely and penurious.

The people that wrote these poems more than a thousand years ago were as sophisticated, critical-minded, and well educated as the greatest literary genius of today. Their sense of humor is fresh and charming, and their social conscience is as sensitive as any today. They possessed a canvas, the vast already-ancient land of China, as varied and rich both historically and geographically, as full of ironic and magnificent perspectives, as our own. And they speak to us with both ancient wisdom and delightful directness.

The Content of Tang Poetry

Perhaps the most salient feature of Tang poetry represented here is its attention to nature. If one excepts the romantic poetry of the European nineteenth century, nature poetry is very rare in all human poetic traditions, except as a background for epic or amorous events and as a source of metaphor. But the Chinese were masters of the art of natural description, raising words to the status of paint in the evocation of landscape and weather. Not that Tang poetry is unmetaphorical–the moods and forms of nature always have deeper moral, psychological, religious, and sociopolitical meanings. A nature poem is often a point-to-point allegory, such as Huang Chao’s “Ode to the Chrysanthemums” which contrasts the aristocratic peach blossom with the humbler chrysanthemum, in the context of a peasant revolution at the time:

The west wind rustles in the yard
that’s thick with your full flower,
But chill your stamens, cold your scent;
no butterflies fly here.

But nature is a powerful value in itself, with a moral presence quite as numinous as in Wordsworth; and the allegory never interferes with the fresh shock of real natural experience. Wang Wei and Du Fu are perhaps the supreme masters of the nature poem, though almost every Tang poet has his own special way of evoking mood and feeling from natural details.

Distinct genres and stock subjects, always renewed by some lovely subtle twist, can be discerned through the centuries of nature verse. The great Chinese waterways inspire the river poems—scholar-administrators traveled mainly by boat, and were well acquainted with riverine scenery and river-port life. There is a whole genre of mountain poetry, with variations: Wang Wei’s vast still silences, Li Bai’s terrifying precipices, Gao Shi’s epic frontier, and the Buddhist mysticism of the Cold Mountain school. There is the seasonal poem, with its precise capture of some moment–the spring flower festivals, the first chill of fall, awakening to snow, the summer storm. There are rain poems and snow poems and mist poems and moon poems and sunset poems and night and morning poems. Each poet would vie respectfully with his predecessors in the topic, and add a unique brush-stroke.

Indeed, the metaphor of ink-brush drawing and painting is almost unavoidable. Chinese script, especially when handled by the great scholar poets, who, I am convinced, saw every written character as a rich evocative picture in their heads, is almost inseparable from the visual arts. Often a poem is the text of a painting, the calligraphy subtly matched to the brushwork and stylistic genre of the landscape or the still-life spray of flowers.

Music is scarcely less important to Tang poetry than painting. Very many of the poems are titled “songs”, and many were sung as often as recited. One genre of the time was the poem in praise of music, such as Li He’s “Upon the Sounds of Li Ping’s Overture for the Kong Hou”, a genre that gives full scope to the Chinese sense of fantasy and an opportunity for the poet to break the strict bonds of brevity and meter that normally discipline his verse. Very often a Tang poetic landscape is haunted by the sound of a flute or the sad notes of the zither-like Cheng.

The Tang landscape is always inhabited. Even the loneliest and most desolate place has a stretch of guarded frontier wall or a tiny pavilion or the sound of an axe or a bell or a sad flute, or the ghostly presence of past emperors or generals. Just as in the West we find the shepherds and bucolic pastoralists and fishing-folk of Theocritus, Virgil, Sannazaro and Spenser, so in Tang verse there is a cast of arcadian or realistic character types that recurs again and again. The archetypes include the fisherman, the herd-boy with his buffalo, the wise old woodman, the toiling peasant or jade-miner. Again, these thematic figures, though stereotypes, are always given fresh immediacy by some poignant detail.

The nature poetry in this anthology always contains a sense of awe at the sheer vastness of the land of China. The Tang poets loved to climb towers or mountain peaks and survey with a shiver the huge and melancholy scene. Or they would sit in a boat at night while the stars wheeled above them in the black sky, and meditate upon their own insignificance. Then would come a moment of intense lonely experience, which would find its way into a poem. Likewise, they would survey the ruins of some old imperial palace, recall the extinct passions of that time, and reflect on the transience of all things.

Tang poetry is deeply human and humane. The love poetry in this collection, whose rarity is, I believe, typical of Tang poetry, is always tender and lovely. Du Fu’s yearning for his wife in “Moon and Night” is especially moving:

Dampened with fog, my wife’s black fragrant hair
Falls over jade-cold arms lit by the moon;
When will we lean upon the airy curtain
Together in this light, our tears dried? Soon?

Women do not appear much in the masculine world of the scholar-poets in this collection, but when they do they are richly and subtly delineated. Tang poetry has a delightful genre of dramatic monologue in the voice of a lady, full of humor, pathos, psychological insight, and accurate observation–exemplified most famously in Li Bai’s “Song of Chang Gan”, translated by Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa as “The River-Merchant’s Daughter”. The lady’s feelings for her lover or husband in such poems again show a huge range, from shy devotion through coquetry and grief-stricken longing to sarcastic insight.

Another perennial topic in Tang poetry is social justice. There seems to be a sense of compassion for the poor in the whole tradition, a compassion that is both sentimental and genuine–Buddhist in its moral spirituality and Confucian in its practical motivation to political and social reform. Bai Juyi is perhaps the master of such themes, though Du Fu and several others have poems on war widows and overtaxed peasants and wretched miners that are as moving.

The poems of social protest almost never attack negligent authorities directly. Sometimes the criticism will be cloaked in allegory, as in Zhang Ji’s “Song of the Fearsome Tigers.” Sometimes an incident that constitutes in itself a mute indictment of official arrogance, corruption, cowardice, or neglect is simply presented without editorializing. Sometimes an episode of past history that is pointedly relevant to the present is left to stand alone. These stories–of young wives or old mothers deprived of their sons by the draft, of abandoned peasant farms, of lavish court processions and feastings as people die of starvation in distant provinces–are among the most moving of the period. One of the most effective examples of this genre is Bai Juyi’s old charcoal-burner spurned aside by the court envoys:

Though only thin rags hang upon
His wretched arms and thighs,
He hopes the winter will be cold
So charcoal’s price will rise.

An inch of snow fell overnight,
He makes an early start;
Down from the hills through rutted ice
He drives the charcoal-cart.

The ox gets tired, the man is starved,
The sun has risen higher,
He rests outside the Southern Gate
Upon the market mire.

Two horsemen lightly canter up;
Who are they? By their dress,
One in yellow, one in plain white,
They’re couriers, more or less.

With dispatches in hand, they shout
“Imperial command!”
The old man turns his cart, the ox
Drags the whole burden round.

One cart of charcoal’s half a ton;
North to the palace gate
The envoys chivvy him, and now
He must unload the weight.

In grief, he’s paid but half a bolt
Of muslin, dyed cheap red,
And but nine feet of low-grade silk
Flung round the ox’s head.

Behind these observations is always a kind of sad and realistic memory of the universal repeated cycle of imperial history: the vital new dynasty that reforms and protects the land, followed by a golden age of wealth and conquest, which yields to luxury and neglect of duty. In its new confidence the dynasty embarks on vainglorious conquests, resulting in stretched supply lines and thus incompetent defence against the perennial invaders, and ends in invasion, rebellion and collapse–with the peasants as always the chief victims. Like other dynasties, the Tang in its later days sent off more and more conscripts to expand the frontier buffer zone or build walls and fortified towns–towns that then had to feed themselves off poor land. The imperial administration taxed the farmers cruelly for these adventures, while depriving them of their young male labor and building sumptuous palaces in the capital, and exiling critical mandarin advisers to remote posts to keep them quiet.

The mood with which the Tang poets responded to official neglect, both of their individual services as pious advisers, and of the nation’s welfare as a whole, was the resigned serenity of China’s three great religions–Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The Tang poet might meditate on the proverbial Confucian wisdom, like Du Fu in “Beyond the Frontier Pass”:

Who bends a bow should bend one that is strong;
Who draws an arrow, choose one that is long.
If you would shoot a man, first shoot his horse;
To take the enemy, first take their king.

But there must be some end to slaughtering;
All nations have their own distinct frontiers:
If we can check aggressive bullying,
What need for so much killing, harm, and wrong?

Or he might call to mind great historical examples of thankless devotion to Confucian duty, as Du Fu does in “The Shu Prime Minister”:

Where is that noble minister’s
commemorative shrine?
Outside the Brocade City, in
dark cypress-groves, alone.

Stone stairways mirror blue-green grass,
unkempt in this spring scene;
A yellow oriole, hid in fronds,
sings sweetly, but in vain.

Three times the nation called on him
to serve it by his art;
Two empires the old minister
guided with all his heart;

He led the troops to victory,
but died before they won–
Which wets with tears the garments of
heroic gentlemen.

Anther recourse was to turn one’s back on the flattery and corruption of society and enter the strange magical world of Taoist nature mysticism. Nature for the Chinese poet is always liable to surprise him with an epiphanic revelation and a dream vision. Li He is a master of this genre. The most ancient of China’s traditions, preserved in old “pagan” myths and fairytales and in memories of early childhood, here rise to the poetic surface as a solace and escape. Perhaps the strangest example is Li Bai’s magnificent “Dream Journey on Mount Tian Mu”:

Fired by this vision, one night I
dreamed of the land of Yue;
I’m flying over Mirror Lake,
where the bright moon holds sway;
That bright moon casts my shadow on the lake
And ushers me toward the clear Shan rill
Where dwelt the poet-master Xie,
and his old home is still,
And over the pure ripples wail
the apes’ cries, sad and shrill.

I don the simple clogs of Master Xie,
My body climbs the blue cloud ladder way;
Half up the cliff, look, sunrise on the sea,
And listen, for the cock crows in the day.

Ten thousand rocks, ten thousand turns,
the unfixed path winds on;
Tranced by a flower, till sudden dark
I lean against a stone.
With roars of bears and dragon-screams
and rumbling waterfalls
I tremble at the forests deep,
the layered mountain-walls:
Ai! these blue blue clouds
full of the coming rain!
Ai! these pale pale waters,
from which the white mist crawls!

Now there’s a sudden thunderbolt,
A landslip slumps down from a fault!
There the stone gates of fairyland
Crash open now on either hand,
Reveal a vast and teal-green space,
a fathomless sky-vault
Where in the sun and moonlight, gold
and silver towers stand.

Their clothes are glowing rainbows, Ai!
their horses, the wild wind;
The gods of cloud, Ai! see their glittering files
in endless multitudes descend!
The tiger strikes the zither, Ai!
those phoenix charioteers!
Ai! see how the Immortal Ones
their serried ranks extend!

My heart is quaking, Ai!
my unquiet heart is stirred;
Ah, in this sudden terror
I wake with a long sigh.
What’s left, alas, is only
a pillow and a mat:
Oh, where is that bright mist now?
where is that rosy cloud?

Thus all the pleasures of the world
are transient as a dream,
Passing forever from the earth
as rivers eastward stream.

Farewell, my friend; I do not know
the time of my return;
For now I’ll let my white stag graze
in these cliffs green with fern–
If called, I’ll reascend that peak
upon his swift back borne;
But how shall I with lowered brow
and bent neck to the mighty turn,
Where there’s no opening of face or heart,
in service to their scorn?

Most serene of all religious responses is the Buddhist abandonment of attachment and devotion to the moment of the eternal present. Jiao Ran catches the ethos of the Zen-based Cold Mountain School in his “Hearing a Bell” (the “ong”-”ang” rhymes are in the original):

From the old shrine on Han Shan comes a clang,
A far bell like the sweet wind’s spreading song.
The Moon-Tree rings with its long lingering,
The frosty sky is emptied by its gong.
Long through the night the seeker after Zen
Lets the mind chill, and still, and hang.

Tang poets would go on retreats at Buddhist monasteries and seek counsel from the reverend masters, as Chang Jian does here in “On the Cloisters Behind the Temple of Mount Po”:

At dawn I slip into the ancient shrine;
The early sun has lit the sacred grove.
Bamboos; a path to a secluded glen
Where amid woods and flowers the Zen monks live.

The birds by nature love the mountain light;
The pool’s reflections purge the hearts of men.
Ten thousand noises here are silenced quite,
But for the sound of bell and clear chimestone.

The Poetic Form of Tang Poetry

All human poetry (with the exception of some free verse experiments in the Westernized countries in the twentieth century) uses a line about three seconds in length when recited, regulated by such devices as syllable-count, stress-count, number and uniformity of metrical feet (established by syllable-length or syllable-stress), tone pattern, grammatical or logical parallelism, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and rhyme. These devices, depending upon the tradition or the poet’s choice, can be either voluntary or obligatatory–either recognizable ornaments or constitutive features of a given form. For instance, in English a formal sonnet must have fourteen iambic pentameter lines, with one of a small number of rhyme schemes; it may use alliteration, logical and grammatical parallelism, masculine or feminine rhymes, etc.

Chinese Tang period poetry uses a rich palette of rules. It must (with some exceptions, especially in the longer forms) have lines of five or seven syllables. Chinese is of course a tonal language, with four pitched tones (high, rising, falling-and-rising, and falling). Certain specific combinations of changing and unchanging tones are required in Tang poetry. There is also to my ear a regular stress pattern of alternating strong and weaker stresses. Lines (again with the exception of the longer forms) are arranged in pairs and quatrains–pairs of pairs. Rhyming is obligatory, though the rhyme pattern can vary and not every line must rhyme. The seven-syllable line will have a caesura after the fourth syllable, like the English “fourteener” (more commonly known as ballad meter) which is divided into eight- and six-syllable parts, with a caesura after the eighth syllable. Chinese poetry also uses a much-prized formal ornament, the couplet, in which a pair of lines echo each other exactly in syntax, while either paralleling or exactly contrasting with each other in logic, and reversing each other in tonal pattern. Even poems that do not contain exact couplets often refer by implication to the couplet in partial parallelisms and significant variations. Assonance, alliteration, etc, are voluntary ornaments, reinforcing the logic or suggesting onomatopoeia. The normal Tang poem has eight or four lines. To my ear–this feature is not often discussed by scholars–the lines are stressed TUM-ta TUM-ta TUM for the five-syllable line, TUM-ta TUM-ta, TUM-ta TUM) for the seven-syllable line.

Since Chinese writing is pictographic and ideographic, spoken words being represented not alphabetically but by characters, an additional dimension is added to classical Tang poetry: the semantic interplay among the radicals (the semantic and phonemic visual glyphs out of which a character is composed). Each radical possesses for a Chinese scholar a set of meaningful connotations, which can set up a visual dance through the poem–a dance often heightened by the calligraphy and sometimes echoing the themes of an associated ink-brush painting.

In poetic form as in so many things, such as music, medicine, and painting, the traditional Chinese arts are, it seems to me, an elaboration and brilliant refinement of popular crafts rather than a separate avant-garde intellectual and esthetic realm. The most recent equivalent in Europe, perhaps, was the music of Bach, where a popular musical tradition was raised to the level of high art without any loss to its capacities for creating direct pleasure and a true sense of community. Though the scholars who created poetry were a distinct class, they often had humble roots, because they were qualified not by birth but by passing an examination; they thus were exposed to the vitality of folk art–the folksong, ballad, fairytale, etc. Bai Juyi, it is said, would not stop tinkering with his poems until they could be understood by an old cleaning lady. Tang poems were often known by heart among the people and cited proverbially even without awareness of their source, as the Bible still is in the West.

Tang poetry, however, does not seem to have developed the longer forms, the epic, epillion, or extended dramatic narrative. China had already developed a sophisticated prose, and so the novel or tale forms took over the tasks of more extended storytelling. However, there are some very fine mid-length poems, of upwards of thirty lines, which break out into more extended narrative or spontaneous effusion or meditative discourse. The dithyramb–the longer, irregular, passionate, and sometimes mystical poetry of the inspired Greek bard–may be a useful Western analogy. Li Bai and Du Fu especially show fine examples: Li Bai’s “The Perilous Shu Road,” “Song of Chang Gan”, and “Dream Journey on Mount Tian Mu”, and Du Fu’s “Song of the War Chariots” and “Thatched Cottage Wrecked by Autumn Gales” are examples. These longer poems abandon many of the practices of the more formal short poem, mixing five-syllable, seven-syllable, and even longer lines, interspersing exclamations in four or even three syllables, and changing the rhythmic flow. It is as if when a Chinese poet escaped the limits of the quatrain or double quatrain form, a new aesthetic comes into play, one in which precision, delicacy, and perfection is replaced by impressionism, passion, and that roughness that the Italian Renaissance poets called “sprezzatura.”

But this is not to imply, either on my part or on that of the Tang poets, that the escape from or breaking of form is necessarily a superior or an inevitable thing. It is only the surrounding presence of a thousand tiny gemlike poems in the tradition that gives meaning and pathos and the force of surprise to the occasional rant or dithyrambic effusion or wandering meditation. And those perfect gems that make up the bulk of the tradition contain in their faceted interiors such blazes of sudden light, color, and emotion as to focus into an ineffable moment the same intensity of feeling that we find, drawn out and elaborated, in the longer poems.

Tang Aesthetic Philosophy

Every great national literature is both unique and at the same time representative of humanity’s universal essence. Indeed, what we mean by “great” is perhaps precisely the union of these two characteristics. A literature that was not unique, if one could imagine such a thing, might hardly be worth translating, since its qualities would be available elsewhere; a literature that did not contain the spirit of humanity as a whole would be of local interest only, village gossip or arbitrary cult obsessions. As one might say that all English poetry is in some sense dramatic, and in this uniqueness reveals more clearly than elsewhere the essential dramatic trading that must go on in all good poetry; or that all German poetry is based on a sort of fairy tale in which the novice learns wisdom, and thus tells us something about the guiding function of poetry in general; or that all Hungarian poetry addresses the world of nature and human culture as “thou”, and so epitomizes the implicit “ode” element in human poetry–so Tang poetry, when it raises its eyes from the immediate view of the midnight river or mossy tree to the vast and melancholy vision of “ten thousand miles,” reflects a hidden theme in all other poetry.

The I Ching system of divination and classification provides a continuous logical progression from the primal unity of Chi energy that is also called the Tao (or “way”), through its first division into Yin and Yang, and successive iterative dividings into binary opposites, into the rich variety of the world. This process resembles the cosmological speculations of modern science. During the Big Bang, physicists tell us, the forces and objects of physics first appeared as a succession of dividings—gravity and the superforce from supergravity, electromagnetism and the electroweak force from the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force from electromagnetism, matter and energy from electromagnetism, and so on. The complex dynamical systems of nature attain their full orderly-chaotic structures through an iterative process of folding or bifurcation, a process that is capitalized on by life in its spontaneous protein-folding technique. Likewise, our own fertilized egg becomes a human being through successive cell-divisions, each division creating a more complex three-dimensional geometry, a geometry locally sensed by each cell and guiding its specialization into the organs of the future adult body. The brains of young children grow into neural networks by dendritic branching, and learn natural language by a similar bifurcating and branching system of classification.

The Chinese intuited the basic principles of chaos and complexity theory, which underlie all these processes, long before the West did. Of course the West always had branched systems of classification and taxonomy, as do all human cultures. We do see a similar sequence of creation by iteration and bifurcation in the Hebrew book of Genesis—light divided from darkness, solid from liquid, upper from lower, life form the inanimate, human from non-human, and so on. But these dividings are the work of an intervening divine power that is external to the process; the Chinese saw the divine principle as internal, immanent in the flow of change itself. The creative bifurcations of Hesiod’s cosmogony are genealogical, not physical, and so the Greeks did not generalize the principles of growth and reproduction to the inanimate world, and abhorred surds and infinitesimals for the same reason. The Chinese, however, were perfectly at home with inconclusive and undecidable mathematical entities, polycentric dynamical systems and nonlinear causal networks. In Chinese painting one is always being shown the swirls of clouds and water currents, the torsions of mountain-slopes and tree branches, and turbulences of all kinds, as if they were the folds of dancing dragon-bodies pushing through from the visionary world into that of the fleshly eye. In Western painting the basic composition is based on straight lines and Euclidean figures; in Chinese painting, it is as if fractal attractors played the corresponding organizing role. We know now that linear order and straight lines are rare in the universe, and nonlinear dynamical processes are the norm; the Chinese knew this all along, and the strict order of their metrical forms and architecture is a conscious reply and complement to the protean Chi of nature. Just so we find in a scroll painting of a cliffside a tiny pavilion whose straight lines contrast with and complement the surrounding wilderness.

Every Tang poem in this collection celebrates the inner Chi of the world. One might say that for the Tang poet Time is not a dimension or a space but a dragonlike energy, an enlivening and animating breath that makes every twig and snowflake shine and transform itself. Chi is not just a dynamic that takes place in time, but the core property of time itself. Chi is both the increase of entropy that constitutes time for thermodynamics, and the self-organizing growth of information that takes place in evolutionary processes. The beauty experience, the shiver of epiphanic delight in every good Tang poem, is a recognition of the promise and power of that energy, the perpetual dawning of the world. Or again, in the terms in which the West rediscovered the old wisdom of the Chinese, our sense of beauty is an intuitive capacity to recognize the strange attractors of nonlinear dynamical processes, especially when those processes are on the brink of self-organizing into a higher integrative level of structure. This moment of emergence is also the point of branching or bifurcation, in which a new kind of entity is precipitated out of some far-from-equilibrium crisis, a turbulence that the old system has encountered in its temporal exploration of the information space. Out of turbulence comes branching; and branching creates new entities. For the Tang poets in this collection, those entities are the germs of poems, which elaborate themselves through pairing and iteration until they are complete. In Du Fu’s “Spring Night with Happy Rain” the wild turbulence of wind and rain and flood and cloud resolves in the last two lines into a spring dawn, suddenly full of soaked flowers, and a human city. It is a tiny epitome of the evolution of the universe through the branching of Chi into Yin and Yang, and the continuation of the branching process, drawn by the whispered attractors inherent in the turbulence into the complex forms of flowers and cities:

A good rain knows the season when it’s right,
In spring, on time, it makes things sprout and grow.
Follow the wind, sneak out into the night:
All moist things whisper silently and slow.

Above the wild path, black clouds fill the air,
The boat-lamp on the flood the only glow;
At dawn you see wet mounds of crimson where
The heavy flowers of Chengdu hang down low.

The very form of the classic Tang five-syllable double quatrain exemplifies the mysterious Chi-process of nature. The first line is the Tao of the poem, emerging out of the namelessness of the preceding silence. The second, often forming a couplet with the first, constitutes both its elaboration and its binary contrast, the yang to its yin or the yin to its yang. The third and fourth echo the relationship between the first and second, but with a further twist. Then the second quatrain takes the theme of the first but in a different key and at a different scale. The universal becomes the particular, the particular is suddenly generalized into a vast universal vision; in either case the correspondence between the form of the macrocosm and the form of the microcosm, their “scaling” or “self-similar” property as fractal geometricians call it, is suddenly brought to mind. But the last line, though it rhymes with some crucial ending earlier in the poem, usually pushes out into an adumbration of some further encounter or development, leaving the reader on the edge of an ineffable discovery of his own. The whole poem is a cube of two lines, suggesting the further implications of its exponential power law. The following, by Wang Wei, is a good example (though Wang Wei likes to vary the classic double quatrain by dividing its sense at the end of the sixth rather than the fourth line, variation upon the theme being the soul of Tang poetry):

The Han River Seen From A High Vantage Point

The three Xiang forks join at the Chu frontier,
Through the Jin Gate nine streams pour to the sea;
The river flows far beyond earth and heaven,
The mountains seem to be and not to be;
Cities and realms float by the riverside,
Great billows roil the void immensity.

Ah yes, Xiang Yang has pretty scenery:
I’ll leave to drunk Old Shan the ecstasy!

Our Translation Methods

My co-translator prefers to be called an informant or assistant, but every word of these translations is inspired by meanings that he communicated to me. We worked together for over two years, including a two-week trip to China together in which we visited many of the classic landscapes and cityscapes that the poems describe, and viewed artifacts, calligraphy, and painting of the Tang period.

Our translation work was mostly face-to-face. We met each week for two to three hours, beginning with a recitation by my collaborator in Chinese, in which I noted the cadence, diction, and feeling of the piece. I have picked up some conversational Chinese and recognize many of the words in the Tang classical vocabulary; I know some characters and can discern a number of the radicals. But essentially I am linguistically blind when I come to the language, and my ears and hands must be guided over these poems so that I can visualize their meanings.

My collaborator prepared and brought a trot, which included the Chinese script of the poems, a Pinyin phonetic transcription (including the tonal marks), and a “literal” translation of each word underneath the Pinyin versions. Tang poetry has hardly any syntagmata in the Western sense (words like a, of, the, who, etc) and the logic and argument must be largely inferred from context. One of my biggest challenges was to render into English the rich ambiguitioes and suggestive alternate readings that result from the syntactical indeterminacy of the original.

We would go through a poem word by word, with explanations by my collaborator of the historical, geographic, biographical, and cultural context and the usages and connotations of the words. Any issues of rhyme and meter would be thoroughly aired. For instance, in the longer, more irregular poems, I needed to know which variations on the five or seven syllable line were familiar to a Tang audience, and which would come as a deliberate surprise.

I would then prepare an English version, which my collaborator would critique by email or, if the case became complex, at our next meeting. Sometimes I would see a further meaning in the poet’s words, using my own poetic intuition of the movement of the poet’s mind; sometimes I would have grasped the wrong sense and have to be corrected. My version would attempt to preserve the poem’s rhyme scheme, lineation, and cadence, and at least suggest the perfect couplets when they arose. In English, an exact parallel in sound or grammar between two adjacent lines sounds heavy and contrived, because not varied by the Chinese system of tonal contrasts. I usually changed the grammatical sequence while keeping the semantic pairings between the words in each line.

The largest issue that confronted us when we began our work was how to translate the Chinese metrical system into an English equivalent. To translate the seven and five syllable Chinese lines into seven and five syllable English lines was wrong, for several reasons. One reason is that the Chinese lines take about 3.5 and 2.8 seconds respectively to recite, since the Chinese syllable must be drawn out to about twice the length of an English syllable, so as to indicate the important semantic distinctions of tone. An English line of seven syllables would take only about two seconds and sound very short indeed; an English line of five syllables, only about one and a half seconds, would sound like only a fragment of a line. Chinese people can chatter very quickly, but the very character for “poetry” in Chinese contains radicals implying slow and elevated speech.

Another reason is that much of Tang poetic grammar is conveyed, as mentioned earlier, by means of context and word order, whereas English, even though a relatively economical language itself, still requires a host of little prepositions, articles, conjunctions, modal auxiliaries, prefixes, and suffixes to make sense. A pair of Chinese lines, translated word for word, might look like this:

Mood come oft lone go
Good thing void self know

–but would need twice the number of syllables to express in English:

The mood comes often to go out alone;
There’s good only the empty self can know.

(Wang Wei: “The Villa of Zhongnan”)

A third reason is that the Tang poetic vocabulary had over centuries of use gathered a huge mass of literary and pictorial connotation and allusion, and conventional metaphoric significance. To suggest these depths requires the full scope of English diction and word-choice.

So I decided to translate one Chinese syllable (or, to say the same thing, one Chinese written character) by two English syllables; thus restoring the actual musical length of the line, giving the opportunity to reveal the logic of the Chinese sentence, and allowing allusion and metaphor the play they have in the Chinese. When I did this, lo and behold, I ended up with the English ballad meter or fourteener, corresponding to the Chinese seven, and the English pentameter corresponding to the Chinese five. What is lost in this method is the almost picturelike juxtaposition of sememes in the Chinese; but what is gained is the riches of English syntax and affective emphasis, that can bring out the complexity of the Tang poet’s mood as polishing brings out the color of a gem. The long English ballad line is usually divided into two, of eight and six syllables; but then again, so is the Chinese seven, into four and three, proving that the Chinese need a caesura after the fourth as we do after the eighth. I have indicated this by indentation, as here, in Gao Shi’s melancholy “Ballad of the Yan Country”:

Mountains and rivers desolate
stretch to the far frontiers;
Like windstorms on our flanks there fall
the horsemen of the Hun;
Dead on the field of battle lie
half of our halberdiers;
Under the tents of generals
the dancing-girls sing on!

In autumn by the desert fort
thin grasses withered fall;
At sunset in the lone stronghold
few troops still keep the wall.
Too often the high-favored ones
misjudge the enemy,
Their strength spent in the pass, can’t hope
to break the siege at all.

The homesick garrison in arms
has borne the brunt of war;
Well might the ones they left behind
weep jade tears in their pain;
Young wives in southern cities are
breaking their hearts today;
The warriors sent up north of Ji
turn back their heads in vain.

How might one ever cross once more
those shimmering frontier plains?
In all this vast and boundless land
what can avail us here?
Three seasons now, in deathly chi,
the clouds are ranged for war,
All night the signal of the watch
strikes echoes cold and drear.

They’re face to face and sword to sword
as blood and snow flow free,
Did ever yet the noble dead
prize fame or eulogy?
Did you not see, sir?– how we fought,
how suffered on the battlefield,
How sorely to this day do we
miss the great General Li!

These are the last lines of the poem: note that in the original the penultimate long line breaks the pattern of sevens and expands to eight, preparing a climax in the last line; I have reproduced this effect by making that line a sixteener, divided into eight and eight. I hope that something of the rhythm of the great English border ballad of Chevy Chase comes through here, transmuted into a more courtly and self-conscious key.

***

TWO BUDDHIST POEMS

Shen Xiu (606-706)

The body is a holy bodhi tree,
The heart a mirror polished to a glow;
So it reflect the truth, clean it each day,
Lest dust be drawn to grime its purity.

Hui-Neng (638-713)

The bodhi is no body and no tree,
There’s no bright mirror to corrode or rust;
At first no thing at all had come to be,
So what is there to draw the grime and dust?

Geese
Luobin Wang (640-c.648; composed at seven years old)

Honk, honk, honk!
Crook-necked, the geese raise clamor to the sky,
White feathers floating in the water’s green,
Red paddles rowing in the clear bright wave.

Climbing the Tower of You Zhou
Chen Zi-ang (661-702)

I cannot see all those who went before,
All those who are to come I cannot see.
Then in my loneliness and grief the tears roll down,
For heaven and earth appear so vast, so vast to me.

In the Mountains
Wang Bo (650-676)

Why must the Yangtze flow so sluggishly?
Ten thousand li I yearn for my return.
And it’s so late, the autumn wind blows high
And through the hills, the hills, the gold leaves fly.

Farewell to Junior Prefect Du, on his Departure to Take Office in Shu Zhou
Wang Bo (650-676)

The forts of Tang guard Chin’s three satrapies;
I gaze toward Five Ferries; smoke and wind.
Sadly I say goodbye to you, my friend,
Both of us official travelling men.

Soul mates we are, between the four great seas,
Neighbors, though at the world’s remotest end;
Let us not linger at the road’s fork, then,
Like tender children, wetting handkerchieves.

On an Autumn Night in the Mountain Pavilion:
For Reverend Master Hui, in Return for his Poem
Chen Ziang (661-702)

White is the autumn forest, white and clear;
Pale is the emerald mountain, pale and green.
Cloistered, I sense change in the world out there;
Alone I sit, open the prayer-room’s screen.

The night breeze bears confused and distant sound.
The bright moon dews the midnight with cold light.
I bow before your calm, unscheming mind:
I cannot put away this worldly care.

A Full Moon: Missing Distant Friends
Zhang Jiu Ling (673-740)

Out of the ocean grows the brilliant moon,
From furthest shores friends share this moment too;
Grieving, they wish this long night over soon,
Awake, remembering, the whole night through.

I douse the wick, in love with the moonlight,
Throw on some clothes, moist with the falling dew.
Would I could give you armfuls of bright night!–
But I go back to sleep and dreams of you.

A Song of Liang Zhou
Wang Zhihuan (688-744)

The Yellow River climbs away
to far white clouds and sky;
A lonely outpost fortress lies
in mountains ten miles high.

Qiang flute, why must you take to heart
the “Willow” song, alas?
You know the spring wind never blows
across the Yu Men pass.

Climbing the Tower of Guan Que
Wang Zhihuan (688-744)

The white sun nears the mountain, shines no more,
The Yellow River flows into the sea;
If you would stretch your eye one thousand li,
You must climb one more storey of the tower.

Spring Morning
Meng Haoran (689-740)

My spring sleep did not feel the first dawn air,
But now I hear the birds sing everywhere.
Throughout the night the sound of wind and rain–
Who knows how many flowers fell, out there!

I Stop By at an Old Friend’s Farmhouse
Meng Haoran (689-740)

My old friend cooks a chicken millet stew,
He’s asked me to his farm to share a meal.
A clump of green trees lines the village side,
Blue mountains slant above the city wall.

Flowers and a threshing floor outside the window,
We drink, talk hemp and mulberries and all;
Wait till the Chong Yang festival: I’ll come
In time for the chrysanthemums in Fall.

Gazing at Lake Dong Ting:
For Prime Minister Zhang
Meng Haoran (689-740)

In August the lake water’s flat and high,
Its depths merge softly with the lofty sky;
But mists steam from the bays of Yun and Meng,
And waves shake Yue Yang’s ramparts by and by.

I would aspire to cross, but have no boat;
In this wise realm, idle and shamed am I;
I sit ashore, watch anglers fish afloat,
Vainly admire the fish that catch my eye.

Farewell to My Guest Xin Jian at the Lotus Pagoda
Wang Changling (698-765)

Cold rain and river drift and drift
through Wu-land’s midnight shade;
At dawn we’ll part; in Chu’s lone hills
your journey must be made.
In Luo Lang tell my kith and kin
if they ask after me,
That I am but a crystal heart
within an urn of jade.

Sorrow in My Lady’s Chamber
Wang Changling (698-765)

In her bedchamber the young wife
has never known despair;
But dressed and painted, this spring day,
climbing her emerald stair,
She sees along the country lane
the weeping willows’ green,
Grieves that she sent her lord away
to seek high honors there.

Beyond the Great Wall
Wang Changling (698-765)

As in Qin times the moon, the pass,
so in the time of Han;
Young soldiers march ten thousand li,
and do not yet return.

Were the famed “Flying General”
of Dragon City here,
We’d never let Hun cavalry
across Mount Yin’s frontier!

Joining the Army–Two Songs
(out of seven)
Wang Changling (698-765)

Long cloud-racks over Lake Qing Hai
shade mountains white with snow;
From Lonely Outpost you gaze out
where Yu Men Pass must go.

A hundred battles in the sands
wear out the mail and chain;
If we do not defeat Lou Lan,
may none return again!

The desert sandstorm turns the sun
a dusky yellow-gray;
The red war-banner’s furled as they
pass through the fort’s gateway.

Alone the vanguard fights tonight
north of the river Tao;
Reports come in that Tu Yu Hun,
the chief, is captured now.

Lodging Beneath Mount Bai-Gu
Wang Wan (received degree 712-713)

The traveler’s way leads past the verdant peaks,
The boat glides swifter than the teal-green flow;
The flood has widened level with the banks,
My one sail hangs, the breeze blows calm and slow.

The far sea’s sun grows from the dregs of night;
The river’s spring invades the old year. So,
If I wrote letters home, where would they go?
Back with the wild geese to Luo Yang far below.

Embassy to the Frontier Pass
Wang Wei (701-761)

To visit the frontier I drove alone;
As special envoy I had passed Ju Yan.
Tumbleweed blown beyond the lands of Han,
The wild geese seeking foreign skies again.

In the great desert one tall line of smoke,
On the long river, round, the setting sun:
A mounted scout comes to me in Xiao Guan,
Says the commander is on Mount Yan Ran.

Deer Park
Wang Wei (701-761)

The mountain’s empty of all human sign
But for a voice that rings out far below.
The backlit forest casts deep shafts that shine
Upon the moss, give back a bright green glow.

Longing Memories
Wang Wei (701-761)

The red bean grows down in the southern lands,
In spring, it sprouts how many filigrees?
Please gather, sir, armfuls of these sweet shoots:
Such things arouse the richest memories.

On the Festival of the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month, I Remember my Brothers
–East of Mount Hua
Wang Wei (701-761)

A foreign guest, and all alone,
stranger in a strange land,
I yearn, each happy holiday,
twice for my own dear kind.
I know my distant brothers on
whatever height they’ve climbed
Have set one extra cornel for
the one they left behind.

The Guest House in the Bamboos
Wang Wei (701-761)

Deep in the bamboo grove I sit alone,
I pluck the qin, cry a long melody;
In these unpeopled woods I sing unknown,
But the bright moon comes and shines on me.

Song of Wei Cheng City
Wang Wei (701-761)

The dawn rain lays the dust in Wei Cheng City,
Spring willow-light has greened the guest-house round;
My dearest sir, drain one more cup of wine;
West of Yang Pass no old friends can be found.

Autumn Evening at Home in the Mountains
Wang Wei (701-761)

The mountain’s empty after recent rain,
It’s come at last, the sparkling autumn air;
A bright moon’s shining through the needled pine,
Among the stones the spring flows pure and clear;
Girls come from washing rustle the bamboos,
Fishing-boats pass, lotuses sink and stir.

The sweet spring grass has withered–what of that?
This is a dwelling for a prince’s heir.

The Central Southern Mountains
Wang Wei (701-761)

Close to Heaven’s capital stands Mount Tai Yi,
Its ranges reach the margins of the sea,
Its white clouds part before me, close behind;
I enter a blue haze I no longer see;
Across its peak the constellations change,
Its valleys lit or shadowed variously.

Across the river there’s a woodman: he
May tell me where to find a hostelry.

The Han River Seen From A High Vantage Point
Wang Wei (701-761)

The three Xiang forks join at the Chu frontier,
Through the Jin Gate nine streams pour to the sea;
The river flows far beyond earth and heaven,
The mountains seem to be and not to be;
Cities and realms float by the riverside,
Great billows roil the void immensity.

Ah yes, Xiang Yang has pretty scenery:
I’ll leave to drunk Old Shan the ecstasy!

Peasants by the River Wei
Wang Wei (701-761)

Across the hamlet slants the evening light,
Cattle and sheep come ambling down the street,
An ancient peasant waits for the herd-boy,
Leans on his cane beside a wicker gate.

The pheasants whir in eared and ripening wheat,
In tattered mulberries the silkworms drowse;
A farmer with a hoe comes by; they meet
And talk; no haste to part; the time allows.

I envy them their peaceful unconcern
And sadly chant “Some Day I Will Return”.

A Bird Sings In The Ravine
Wang Wei (701-761)

I am quite still. A cassia flower falls.
The spring night’s quiet, the mountain is serene.
The moon comes out, alarms a mountain bird.
At times he sings down in the spring ravine.

In the Mountains
Wang Wei (701-761)

The Jin Brook’s pebbles stand out white and pale,
The red leaves dwindle in the sky’s great cold;
Although there’s no rain on the mountain trail,
People seem clothed with liquid emerald.

The Villa of Zhongnan
Wang Wei (701-761)

In middle age I came to love the Dao,
In old age dwell now under Mount Zhongnan.
The mood comes often to go out alone;
There’s good only the empty self can know.

I walk beside the water to its bourne,
And there I sit and watch the rising clouds.
Sometimes I meet an old man in the woods:
We talk and laugh with no thought of return.

In Return for a Poem from Deputy Prefect Zhang
Wang Wei (701-761)

Now late in years, stillness is all I crave.
Free of “ten thousand things” my heart’s at ease.
I see myself as one with no designs,
Know only the way back among the trees.

The pine-borne breeze has blown my sash undone;
The mountain moon lights my chin’s melodies.
You ask the truth of failure and success:
From river-deeps a fisher’s song replies.

For Wang Lun
Li Bai (701-762)

Li Bai has got aboard his boat,
his journey will be long;
Upon the bank he hears the sound
of footsteps and of song.
The Peach-Tree lake is deep, so deep,
a thousand feet wellnigh,
But not as deep as Wang Lun’s heart
As he bids me goodbye.

Thoughts in a Silent Night
Li Bai (701-762)

The moonlight falling by my bed tonight
I took for early frost upon the ground.
I lift my head, gaze at the moon, so bright,
I lower my head, think of my native land.

Farewell, Upon Passing Mount Jin Men
Li Bai (701-762)

And now at length I’ve passed beyond Jin Men
On my adventure to the land of Chu.
The mountains end, the flatlands open out,
The Yangtze meets the vast plains and pours through.

The moon is flung upon its heavenly mirror,
The clouds grow mirages of towers and sea;
But still I love the waters of my homeland
That travel with my boat a thousand li.

Ascending the Phoenix Tower of Ji Ling
Li Bai (701-762)

Once on the Phoenix Tower played
the fabled phoenix shrill,
That bird is gone, the tower stands void,
the river flows on still.
In the Wu Palace grass and flowers
choke deep the rutted way;
Fine nobles of the house of Jin
leave nothing but a hill.

The Three-Peak Mountain falls beyond
the blue rim of the sky,
The double river parts around
the far White Egret Isle;
Always gross veils of cloud may hide
the glorious sun of heaven–
Royal Chang-An is hid from sight,
and my heart feels the chill.

The Perilous Shu Road
Li Bai (701-762)

Ah, terrible, that road!
How dangerous, how high!
The road to Shu is the most dreadful way,
Harder to climb than is the deep blue sky.
The realms of Can Cong and Yu Fu go back
To foundings lost to human memory;
Forty-eight thousand years since then
they let go drifting by
But never with the forts of Qin
shared message or reply.
The western face of Mount Tai Bai
is where the wild birds fly,
Migrants that find their way across
the summit of E Mei.
It’s said the mountain broke and fell
in a great landslide
and many brave men died
And afterward the stair of heaven was joined
to the cliff causeway.

Above, a peak so high
the six swift dragons of the sun must veer aside;
Below, a rushing flood whose churning waves
turn back in whirlpools on themselves.
Even the yellow crane can not pass here,
whose element’s the sky;
The very apes wish they could cross,
but fear to climb so high.
So spiraled round is Qi Ni Pinnacle,
To climb a hundred steps takes nine
whole circuits of the stone;
You touch Orion, Gemini,
you look up, hold your breath
–You stroke your overburdened chest
–you heave a long deep sigh.
I ask you, traveler in the West,
when, sir, will you return?
That dreadful road, those towering cliffs–
you cannot pass that way,
Where in the ancient trees the birds
scream out their grieving cry,
And through primeval forest shades
the males, then females, fly;
The cuckoo, too, mourns its sad lullaby,
The haunted moon in empty mountains high.
The road to Shu is the most dreadful way,
Harder to climb than is the deep blue sky.
That youthful bloom, you who hear this,
well may it turn to grey!

Scarcely a foot away from heaven
there hangs a withered pine,
That clings against a precipice
twisted and upside down.
The flying torrents, waterfalls,
strive in a rumbling roar,
Ten thousand avalanches crash
in chasms far and near.
If then so perilous as it is here,
Ah, you who travel from so far away,
What reason brings you hither, why, O why?
The pass of Jian Ge climbs among
steep towers to the sky,
If one man guards the narrow way,
ten thousand can’t get by;
Whoever guards it must be trustworthy
Lest we become the wolf’s and jackal’s prey.
Shun the tiger in the dawn,
In the night beware the snake;
Grinding tooth and bloody yawn
Many many lives do take.
Though pleasures can be found in Brocade Town
You’re better off at home, for your own sake.

The road to Shu is the most dreadful way,
Harder to climb than is the deep blue sky.
I turn toward the distant west,
and heave a long deep sigh!

An Ancient Ballad (No. 19)
Li Bai (701-762)

Westward up Lotus Mountain peak I climb,
And see afar the Starbright Covenant.
With waterlilies in their pure white hands
They tiptoe in the lofty firmament;
Behind them rainbow cinctures floating trail
In broad sweeps up to heaven, radiant;
And they invite me to the Courts of Cloud
To bow to Wei Shu Qing, his hierophant.
Trancelike I go with them, and on a swan
Into the upper air make my ascent.

But still I must look down, at Luo Yang Plain,
Where Hun hordes ravage, wild and turbulent,
Paint the grass bloody–wolves and jackals garbed
In high officials’ cap and ornament.

Song of Frontier Commander Ding
Li Bai (701-762)

Upstream from Yun Yang, both banks when you go
Are lined with wealthy businesses. Oh,
When the Wu oxen gasp against the moon,
What toil to drag the boats against the flow!

When the foul water is not fit to drink,
A pot of tea is half mud down below,
Then when we sing the work-song of “Du Hu”
Our heartsick tears like raindrops overflow.

Ten thousand men haul at a tethered rock,
But can we get it to the river? No.
Sir, if you saw those ponderous huge stones,
You must forever hide your tears of woe!

Song of Chang Gan
Li Bai (701-762)

When my first fringe fell down across my forehead,
I picked a flower, played before the door.
Riding a bamboo horse, my love, you found me,
We chased green plums around the bedroom floor.
We dwelt close by in Chang Gan’s lanes and alleys,
Two small folk with no guile, in perfect peace.
When I was fourteen I became your wife, sir,
But being shy, refused to show my face.
I turned my head toward the wall and would not,
Though called a thousand times, give any sign.
Only at fifteen I unclenched my eyebrows,
Willed that my dust be ever mixed with thine.
And I embraced the “pillar of pure trusting,”
Why climb the roof-walk, spy what you might do?
At sixteen, sir, you left on a long voyage,
Past the dread Yan Yu reefs and shoals of Qu.
In May I prayed you had not struck the rocks, love,
The very apes would wail in grief for you.
I still can see your tracks beside the doorway.
But now they’re almost covered up with moss
So deep, it is forbidden now to sweep them,
And early autumn winds blow leaves across.
In August two bright butterflies together
Fluttered above the western garden grass;
It hurts me that my heart is full of worry,
My pretty face grows old within the glass.
When you reach Chongqin, write to me and tell me
How soon you’re coming home, and how you are,
And I’ll come out and meet you on your journey,
Even if it’s as far as Chang Feng Sha.

Bring in the Wine: a Drinking Song
Li Bai (701-762)

Can’t you see the Yellow River gushing from the overwhelming sky,
Pouring to the ocean always, never to return?
Can’t you see the shining mirror, grieving in the high hall for your hair,
Silken black at dawn, that dusk has turned to snow?
If your fortune favors, drink up all the joy,
Do not let the golden wine-cup in the moonlight ever yet run dry.
Always shall my heaven-born genius find a way to serve;
Let a thousand coins of gold be scattered, easy come and easy go;
Let us kill the fatted lamb, the ox, and celebrate the moment,
Let us drink three hundred healths at but one sitting!
Master Chen the Scholar! Young Dan-Qiu the learned student!
Bring the wine in! Never cease the drinking!
Listen now, for I shall sing a song.
Bell and drum and jade and every dainty delicacy are not sweet enough:
Let us but be drunk and never wake again.
Virtuous and holy sages since the ancient times have vanished, not to leave a name;
Only the great drunkards live in memory:
Lord Chen once gave a banquet at the Ping Le Temple
Where they drank a tun of wine that cost ten thousand–let us, as they did, drink and be as merry.
Master of the revels, why should you care about the money?
Go and pay the vintner, face him down and pour the good wine forth–
Take my darling flower-dappled horse, my coat that cost a thousand,
Call the boy, and sell them all to buy the shining wine.
And as for you and I, may our ten thousand endless griefs be drowned in that good wine.

Drinking Alone under the Moon
Li Bai (701-762)

Among the flowers with one lone jug of wine
I drink without a friend to drink with me.
But I’ll lift up my cup, invite the moon,
So with my shadow we will make up three.

The moon’s immune, though, to debauchery,
And my poor shadow follows me in vain;
Still, Moon and Shadow are my company–
The joys of spring may never come again.

So as I sing, Moon wanders aimlessly,
And as I dance, poor tangled Shadow reels;
Sober, we were in perfect harmony,
Now, drunk, there’s no connection of our heels;
But, careless of this world, we’re bound, one day,
To meet together in the Milky Way.

In Difficulty
Li Bai (701-762)

Gold goblets of good wine can cost
a thousand for one quart,
Ten thousand for a fine jade dish
of dainties served at court;
But stop the cup, throw chopsticks out,
I have no will to eat;
I draw my sword, look wildly round,
perplexed and sick at heart.

I’d cross the Yellow River but
the water’s clogged with ice;
I’d climb Mount Tai Hang but the snow
darkens the lowering skies.
Like one who waits for miracles
idly I fish the brook,
Have sudden dreams that I’ve set sail
toward a bright sunrise.

But I am stranded, caught!
But I am trapped and caught!
So many forking ways, which one
is the right path for me?
To ride the wind and cleave the waves
the time will come unsought:
I’ll hoist my sail up to the clouds
and cross the deep blue sea!

The Poet’s Farewell Dinner for his Uncle, Secretary Yuan, in the Xie Tiao Tower of Xuan Zhou
Li Bai (701-762)

O how could it abandon me,
the day that happened yesterday,
that no-one can retain–
O why shakes so this heart in me
the day that’s happening today,
so full of grief and pain!
Ten thousand li of autumn wind
bid the wild geese farewell,
We see it from the storied tower,
and drink and drink again.
Your writings, in the “Elfland” school,
strong-boned, like old Jian An’s,
And mine, like Xie the Younger’s, drawn
to a fresh clarity,
Both cherish a bold eagerness,
a splendid urge to fly,
To climb the blue wind and embrace
the bright moon in the sky.
I draw my sword, I cut the flood,
the waters yet flow on;
I raise the cup to melt my griefs,
but pain piles up on pain;
Man’s life in this world thwarts desire,
my wishes are but vain:
Tomorrow I’ll undo my hair,
take out my boat again.

Long Have I Longed for You
Li Bai (701-762)

Long have I longed for you
Here in the capital.
Beside the golden well-rail sing
the katydids of Fall,
A light frost chills the sleeping-mat,
its color cold and dull.
The solitary lamp is dim,
my thoughts drag to their end,
I furl the drape, gaze at the moon,
sigh vainly at it all.

Beauty’s a flower in the clouds,
distant, untouchable!

Above, the sky, so vast, so high,
stretches empyreal;
Below, the waters, wild and pure,
in great waves surge and fall.
The sky is wide, the earth is far,
in pain the spirit flies;
The mountain passes bar the way
against my dreaming soul.
Long have I longed for you!
Heart breaks, it is too full.

Songs of the Frontier Fortress (No. 1)
Li Bai (701-762)

It snows in May up in the high Tian Shan;
There are no flowers, there is only cold;
The tune of “Broken Willow” on a flute;
No sign of springtime’s pink and green and gold.

We rise at dawn with gong and drum to fight;
We sleep at night, jade saddles in our hold;
The good sword at my side, and iron-souled,
To slay Lou Lan I march out hot and bold.

Dream Journey on Mount Tian Mu:
A Farewell Song
Li Bai (701-762)

Seaferers tell the legend of Ying Zhou,
Fair isle so hard to find amid
the misty billows’ flow;
Likewise in Yue men speak of Mount Tian Mu,
That in dark clouds or rainbows bright
glides sometimes into view.

Tian Mu’s so high it touches heaven,
so wide it lines the sky,
Its sweep surpasses the Five Peaks,
hides Chi Cheng from the eye.
Mount Tian Tai’s half-a-million feet
toppling, seem not so high,
Bowing toward great Tian Mu’s seat
in the south-eastern sky.

Fired by this vision, one night I
dreamed of the land of Yue;
I’m flying over Mirror Lake,
where the bright moon holds sway;
That bright moon casts my shadow on the lake
And ushers me toward the clear Shan rill
Where dwelt the poet-master Xie,
and his old home is still,
And over the pure ripples wail
the apes’ cries, sad and shrill.

I don the simple clogs of Master Xie,
My body climbs the blue cloud ladder way;
Half up the cliff, look, sunrise on the sea,
And listen, for the cock crows in the day.

Ten thousand rocks, ten thousand turns,
the unfixed path winds on;
Tranced by a flower, till sudden dark
I lean against a stone.
With roars of bears and dragon-screams
and rumbling waterfalls
I tremble at the forests deep,
the layered mountain-walls:
Ai! these blue blue clouds
full of the coming rain!
Ai! these pale pale waters,
from which the white mist crawls!

Now there’s a sudden thunderbolt,
A landslip slumps down from a fault!
There the stone gates of fairyland
Crash open now on either hand,
Reveal a vast and teal-green space,
a fathomless sky-vault
Where in the sun and moonlight, gold
and silver towers stand.

Their clothes are glowing rainbows, Ai!
their horses, the wild wind;
The gods of cloud, Ai! see their glittering files
in endless multitudes descend!
The tiger strikes the zither, Ai!
those phoenix charioteers!
Ai! see how the Immortal Ones
their serried ranks extend!

My heart is quaking, Ai!
my unquiet heart is stirred;
Ah, in this sudden terror
I wake with a long sigh.
What’s left, alas, is only
a pillow and a mat:
Oh, where is that bright mist now?
where is that rosy cloud?

Thus all the pleasures of the world
are transient as a dream,
Passing forever from the earth
as rivers eastward stream.

Farewell, my friend; I do not know
the time of my return;
For now I’ll let my white stag graze
in these cliffs green with fern–
If called, I’ll reascend that peak
upon his swift back borne;
But how shall I with lowered brow
and bent neck to the mighty turn,
Where there’s no opening of face or heart,
in service to their scorn?

Ballad of the Yan Country
Gao Shi (702-765)

Han beacons burn in the north-east,
telling of war and woe;
Han generals say goodbye and ride
to smite the ruthless foe.
Young gallants naturally seek
adventure in the field;
On them the emperor is pleased
rare favors to bestow.

With gong and drum the army tramps
toward the pass of Yu;
Deep in the rugged Jie Shi range
their battle-flags wind through;
Express dispatches from the front
fly over vast waste sands:
The Hun chief’s campfires now light up
the cliffs of Lang Ju Xu.

Mountains and rivers desolate
stretch to the far frontiers;
Like windstorms on our flanks there fall
the horsemen of the Hun;
Dead on the field of battle lie
half of our halberdiers;
Under the tents of generals
the dancing-girls sing on!

In autumn by the desert fort
thin grasses withered fall;
At sunset in the lone stronghold
few troops still keep the wall.
Too often the high-favored ones
misjudge the enemy,
Their strength spent in the pass, can’t hope
to break the siege at all.

The homesick garrison in arms
has borne the brunt of war;
Well might the ones they left behind
weep jade tears in their pain;
Young wives in southern cities are
breaking their hearts today;
The warriors sent up north of Ji
turn back their heads in vain.

How might one ever cross once more
those shimmering frontier plains?
In all this vast and boundless land
what can avail us here?
Three seasons now, in deathly chi,
the clouds are ranged for war,
All night the signal of the watch
strikes echoes cold and drear.

They’re face to face and sword to sword
as blood and snow flow free,
Did ever yet the noble dead
prize fame or eulogy?
Did you not see, sir?– how we fought,
how suffered on the battlefield,
How sorely to this day do we
miss the great General Li!

Farewell to Mr. Dong, Eldest Son of the Family
(First of two)
Gao Shi (702-765)

A thousand li of yellow cloud,
the dim sun’s whitish glow;
The north wind blows a flurry of
wild geese and wilder snow.
Fear not that on the road ahead
no soul-mate may be found:
For under heaven who is he
that your name does not know?

Yellow Crane Tower
Cui Hao (704?-754)

The fay who rode the yellow crane
long ago passed away;
The Tower of the Yellow Crane
stands empty to this day.

The magic yellow crane, once gone,
no longer reappears;
Only this vast white lonely cloud
looms through a thousand years!

The sunlit river and the trees
of Han Yang clear and bright,
The sweet grass, lush on Parrot Isle
lie spread out in the light.

But evening comes, and night will fall;
where is my native gate?
The mist upon the water grieves
my soul, and it grows late!

Two Songs of Chang Gan
Cui Hao (704?-754)

Where do you come from, sir, if I might ask?
This maiden lives beside the Pool of Heng.
Please stop your boat a moment; if we’re neighbors
To pass by would be an unlucky thing.

My home looks out upon the Jiu Jiang’s waters,
I come and go upon the broad Jiu Jiang.
Indeed we’re both from Chang Gan, as you mentioned,
But did not meet, I think, when we were young.

Staying on a Night of Wind and Snow with the Host of Hibiscus Mountain
Liu Changqing

Far teal-blue mountains and the sun’s last glow;
In this chill heaven, a poor white-wood hut;
You hear a dog bark at the wicker gate–
At night a man comes home in wind and snow.

Four Modern Short Pieces (No. 3)
Du Fu (712-770)

A pair of yellow orioles
sing in the emerald willow;
A line of herons, brilliant white,
soar in the pure blue sky.
The window’s mouth frames the West Range–
a thousand years of snow;
Moored by the water gate East Wu’s
ten thousand small craft lie.

Distant View of the Great Mountain
Du Fu (712-770)

What is there like you, reverend Mount Tai?
To north and south spread out an endless green;
Here heaven and earth join miracle with grace,
Your dawn and dusk slopes split the yang and yin.

My heart rinsed by your growing layers of cloud,
My eyes pierced by the homing birds they’ve seen,
I must at last climb to the very peak,
And see all lesser hills that there have been.

Spring Night with Happy Rain
Du Fu (712-770)

A good rain knows the season when it’s right,
In spring, on time, it makes things sprout and grow.
Follow the wind, sneak out into the night:
All moist things whisper silently and slow.

Above the wild path, black clouds fill the air,
The boat-lamp on the flood the only glow;
At dawn you see wet mounds of crimson where
The heavy flowers of Chengdu hang down low.

Spring: Gazing into the Distance
Du Fu (712-770)

Shattered the state, but hill and stream live on;
Spring in the city, thick grows grass and tree.
I sigh the times, the flowers are splashed with tears;
A bird can fright the homesick heart in me.

The beacon fires have burned three months on end,
Letters from home weigh as ten thousand gold;
I rub my white head till the hair’s so thin
The pin that clasps it now will barely hold.

Beyond the Frontier Pass
Du Fu (712-770)

Who bends a bow should bend one that is strong;
Who draws an arrow, choose one that is long.
If you would shoot a man, first shoot his horse;
To take the enemy, first take their king.

But there must be some end to slaughtering;
All nations have their own distinct frontiers:
If we can check aggressive bullying,
What need for so much killing, harm, and wrong?

The Shu Prime Minister
Du Fu (712-770)

Where is that noble minister’s
commemorative shrine?
Outside the Brocade City, in
dark cypress-groves, alone.

Stone stairways mirror blue-green grass,
unkempt in this spring scene;
A yellow oriole, hid in fronds,
sings sweetly, but in vain.

Three times the nation called on him
to serve it by his art;
Two empires the old minister
guided with all his heart;

He led the troops to victory,
but died before they won–
Which wets with tears the garments of
heroic gentlemen.

Early Start from White King City
Du Fu (712-770)

I leave Bai Ti in its white clouds,
at dawn I’m on my way,
To Jiang Ling it’s a thousand li,
but it will take one day.
The screaming monkeys on the banks
will never cease their calls;
My light boat has already passed
ten thousand mountain-walls!

Song of the War Chariots
Du Fu (712-770)

Chariot-wheels scream,
the horses wildly neigh;
With bows and arrows on their backs
the conscripts make their way;
Where fathers, mothers, children, wives,
run out to see them go,
The Xian Yang bridge is dark with dust
although it is broad day;
They snatch at coats, shriek, stamp their feet,
and try to block the road,
The cry goes up and strikes the clouds–
heaven’s in disarray.

A passerby along the way
questions the conscript band;
The men can only say they have
been drafted many times.
One, at fifteen, was sent up north
to guard the river, and
At forty, ordered to the west
to break the new ploughland.
The village chieftain when he left
helped tie his head-band here;
That head was white when he returned,
still–back to the frontier.
Out at the front the soldiers shed
an ocean of their blood:
Emperor Wu will never cease
to make his conquests good.

“Haven’t you heard, sir? In the realms of Han
east of Mount Hua, two hundred prefectures,
There are ten thousand villages
where only thorns now grow.
Even if sturdy women can
handle the plow and hoe,
The dike-divisions of the grain
unsquared, to chaos go.
The bravest warriors of the Qin
who’ve borne the brunt of war,
Like dogs or chickens yet are driven
against the endless foe.

“Although you, reverend sir, inquire, how dare
A mere recruit speak out his fierce despair?
Just take this winter, when they wouldn’t give
The western garrison their rest and leave.
The local bosses want their rent, but yet
Where does rent come from?–that’s what they forget.
To have a boy is bad luck nowadays,
A girl is good luck, such now are the ways.
Marry her to the man next door
and let the matter pass,
Your boy, though, will lie buried far
under the blowing grass.

“Haven’t you seen, old sir,
up by the Blue Lake’s head,
Since ancient times ungathered lie
the bleached bones of the dead?
The new ghosts rage in bitterness,
the old ghosts weep and sigh;
In rain or under cloud-dark sky,
like birds they cry and cry.”

Facing the Snow
Du Fu (712-770)

Many new ghosts cry out, in battle slain;
An old man’s chanting, anxious and alone.
Chaotic clouds oppress the setting sun,
Windblown, a rush of dancing snow spins down.

The gourd’s abandoned by the dry wine-jar,
The stove is real, flames seem to burn again.
The mails are cut, through several prefectures;
I sit here, anxious, write on the air in vain.

Thatched Cottage Wrecked by Autumn Gales: A Song
Du Fu (712-770)

From August’s tall sky with a howl
a gale began to blow;
It rolled the thatch right off my house,
three layers in a row.
The straw flew up and sprinkled on
the river bank below:
The higher part hung up on twigs
where the dense thickets grow;
The lower part swirled floating down,
sank in the pool’s deep flow.

From the South Village crowds of children came
to bully this feeble old man.
Hard-hearted, they would play the thief
brazenly to my face;
They picked the thatch up in their arms,
fled in the thick bamboo.
With chapped lips and with hoarse dry throat
I cried aloud in vain:
Returning, drew a heavy sigh
and leaned upon my cane.

At once the wind dropped, and the clouds
turned inky in the murk,
The twilight of the autumn sky
dimmed swiftly into black.
My cotton quilt through many years
has turned as chill as iron,
By my dear boy in awkward sleep
its lining kicked and torn.
On every bed the house now leaks,
not one place is still dry,
The thickset stalks of rain, like hemp,
uncut, still multiply.
Since the old Time of Troubles, I
have not slept through the night;
How shall I hold out now, soaked through,
until the morning light?

O for ten thousand thousand halls,
ten thousand mansions wide,
Great shelter for poor scholars everywhere,
with joyful faces, safe inside,
In wind and rain as still and sound
as mountain fortified!
Ah me, if such a noble dwelling-place should tower
before the poets gaping, open-eyed,
Then though my hut alone were wrecked, and I
lie cold, I would die satisfied!

Climbing the Tower of Yue Yang
Du Fu (712-770)

I heard once of Lake Dong Ting’s endless waters,
I climb now Yue Yang Tower to see this sight;
The lands of Wu and Chu split east and south;
Heaven and earth float here both day and night.

No word I hear from relative or friend;
But one boat have I, I am old and ill;
North of Guan Shan ride hostile cavalry;
I lean upon the rail, the thick tears fall.

At Night Far From Home He Unburdens His Heart
Du Fu (712-770)

A light wind in the thin grass of the shore,
A boat at night, tall-masted and alone;
The stars hang over a vast open plain,
The moon swims in the mighty river’s stream.

So, do my writings make a famous name?
This sick old officer should just resign.
Adrift, adrift, what kind of thing am I?
A lone white gull between the earth and sky.

Moon and Night
Du Fu (712-770)

Tonight the same moon stands above Fu Zhou
My lady watches from her room, alone.
I yearn to hold my small son and my daughter,
Too young to know what happened in Chang An.

Dampened with fog, my wife’s black fragrant hair
Falls over jade-cold arms lit by the moon;
When will we lean upon the airy curtain
Together in this light, our tears dried? Soon?

Three Poems on a Qiang Village
Du Fu (712-770)

ONE
Mountainous red clouds tower in the west.
Upon the earth the sun’s rayed foot is pressed.
The sparrows chatter by the wicker gate.
After a thousand li, the traveller’s rest.

My wife and children, shocked I am alive,
Their fright calmed, wipe their eyes upon a sleeve:
Such troubled times! grievous vicissitudes!
By sheer chance I prevail and I survive.

The wall is lined with neighbors in delight
Who sob and sigh until the sun grows dim;
We light a candle later in the night,
Together, face to face, as in a dream.

TWO
I’m trapped and useless in my later years;
Since my return all zeal and joy seem vain.
My darling son who never left my knee
Fears me lest I should go away again.

Once I enjoyed the coolness at my ease;
Now I roam through the trees around the pond.
Whoo! Whoo! blows now the blustering north wind;
A hundred griefs stew over in my mind.

But I’m in luck; the millet crop is in,
The brewing-press is flowing, that I know.
Now let us fill the cup with wine and drink
And take what comfort’s left before we go.

THREE
Our flock of chickens, cackling, has run wild;
They have begun to fight when guests come by.
I cannot hear the knocking at my gate
Until I drive the mad birds up a tree.

Four or five elders have arrived to ask
After my travels, pay respects to me.
They are not empty-handed; jugs of wine
Are tilted, clear or turbid, generously.

“Please don’t refuse–it’s poor thin stuff, we know;
The millet fields, unplowed, are hard and dry;
Weapons and war are all our industry;
The boys have all gone east to fight or die.”

“Dear elders, let me sing a song for you.
I feel unworthy of your sympathy.”
I sing, then sigh and look up at the sky.
Among those present, not a cheek is dry.

The New Bride’s Farewell
Du Fu (712-770)

About the flax-flower twines the columbine,
But its weak tendrils cannot reach out wide;
Better to send a daughter on the streets
Than make her go to be a soldier’s bride!

I bound my hair up and became your wife;
Our bed is scarcely warm, unsanctified.
Last night we wed; we part, sir, in the dawn;
Is it not hasty, so to leave my side?

Your journey, my dear lord, is not so long:
You go to guard the Southern River’s side.
With what clear name can I this body bring
To face your parents with a daughter’s pride?

My father and my mother raised me shy,
Both night and day from public view to hide,
And win a groom who, be he dog or fowl,
I’d follow through the hardest time and tide.

You go now, lord, into the place of death.
A bitter pain presses my heart inside.
I swear I’d boldly follow you, my lord,
But then the colors alter in mid-stride

And so I say “Don’t mourn our honeymoon,
Work hard, my husband, serve your country’s side–
The army is no place for a new bride,
Your warrior spirit should not be denied.”

So I must sigh, poor girl of humble kin:
The skirt and bodice that I sewed and tied
From now on I shall never wear again;
I wash my make-up off, see, still undried.

I look up and I see hundred birds.
The great and less, in pairs the winds they ride.
But human things run counter to desire:
With this long gaze we must be satisfied.

The Sergeant of Stone Moat Village
Du Fu (712-770)

I stayed one night in Stone Moat Village, when
They sent a sergeant to conscript a man;
But the old fellow climbed a wall and fled
And his wife kept the gateway while he ran.

The sergeant roared–he was so furious!
The old wife wept–her grief so piteous!
Hear her as she steps up to speak to him:
“To guard Ye Cheng they took three sons from us.

“We have received a letter from one son:
Both brothers died in battle, he lives on
Dragging a meaningless existence still–
Then dead will not return, they’re gone, they’re gone!

“And there is no one left here to arrest,
Except a grandson at his mother’s breast,
And she cannot yet leave the house, because
She has no clothes to go out fitly dressed.

“Sergeant, although I am a weak old dame,
Let me go with you now instead of them;
Right soon I’ll answer to your call to arms,
I’ll get your breakfasts ready, there’s still time.”

The voices died, then a long silence fell;
Perhaps soft sobs and whimpers, I can’t tell.
The sky got bright; I had to take the road;
Only to the old man I said farewell.

Ascending a High Place
Du Fu (712-770)

The wind is swift, the sky is high,
apes give a long sad cry;
The water’s clear, the isle’s sand white,
the birds in circles fly.
Everywhere falling leaves swirl down,
whistling in the gale,
Endless the river surges on
in billows under sky.

Ten thousand li of somber Fall
a sojourner am I;
Aged by a hundred years of care
I climb the tower alone;
Hard grief and bitter care have sowed
thick hoarfrost in my hair;
I’ve given up my cup of wine,
mud-tasting, in despair.

For My Dear Friend Hua
Du Fu (712-770)

In Chengdu strings and woodwinds play
ceaselessly day by day.
Half of it charms the river breeze,
half, the clouds of the sky.
Perhaps these notes should be reserved
only for heaven on high;
How many times can human ears
enjoy such stimuli?

Lament in an Ancient Place
Du Fu (712-770)

Ten thousand hills and valleys pour
down to the Gates of Jin;
Here is the village Lady Ming
was born and called her home.
Once you depart the Purple Halls
you meet the northern waste;
A green tomb’s all that’s left of her
lost in the yellow gloom.

The painting coarsely shows her face
as fresh as the spring wind;
In jade and gold her soul returns
in vain beneath the moon;
A thousand years her Pi Pa plays
in a wild alien tongue;
Her grief can clearly be discerned
in its reproachful tune.

My Guest Arrives
Du Fu (712-770)

To north and south of my small house
springs well up everywhere;
A flock of gulls is all you see,
each day they fill the air.

Except for you, my dearest sir,
the flowering path’s unswept;
The wicker gate is open now,
closed though it’s always kept.

No fancy flavors grace our board,
the market being far;
The wine in our poor home is but
leftovers in a jar;

What do you say, shall we invite
the old man from next door?
I’ll call over the fence to him
to help us drink some more.

On Hearing that Imperial Troops Have Recaptured Henan and Hebei
Du Fu (712-770; poem composed in 763)

Beyond Jian Pass quick word has come,
the northern march set free;
When first I heard, my robes were soaked
with tears of liberty.

What grief still keeps its sting?–I turn
to see my family;
In wild delight I bundle up
my books and poetry.

In broad daylight unchecked I sing,
and let the wine run free;
My homeland welcomes my return
in spring’s green company.

I’ll leave at once, pass by the gorge
of Ba, the gorge of Wu;
To Yuo-Yang City I will fly,
Xiang-Yang I’ll hurry through.

On the River
Du Fu (712-770)

A homesick traveler upon the river,
Outmoded scholar between earth and sky,
A scrap of cloud adrift on the horizon,
A moon in an eternal night, am I.

But in the setting sun my heart’s still ready;
Though Fall gales blow, my illness fades away;
We always find an old horse worth the keeping,
And strength and speed are not the reason why.

Song of Galloping Horse Creek:
Farewell to Lord Commander Feng, on his Expedition to the West
Chen Sen (715-770)

Sir, can’t you see it now–
the Galloping Horse Creek
above the Lake of Snow?
Where vast and level yellow sands
meet the horizon’s glow?

In Lun Tai howling all night through
September winds have blown;
The riverbed is one great waste
of massive shattered stone,
The tumbled boulders in the wind
tumultuously strewn.

The Hun-land grass is yellow now,
their horses sleek with hay;
West of the Golden Mountain, see,
the beacons blaze away.
Han field-marshals prepare to march
westward in war-array.

Even at night the generals
don’t doff their armor-plate,
The halberds on the midnight march
clash and reverberate;
Like knives upon your face you feel
the wind’s relentless bite.

On horsehair steamed with sweat there clings
a mask of white snowflakes;
Your horse’s fiery-flowered coat
freezes and chills and shakes;
In tents they draft the terms of war:
the ink’s congealed to cakes.

Well might the hostile cavalry
feel their guts quake with fear:
Our terms mean fighting hand-to-hand–
to meet they do not dare.
At the west gates of Che Shi waits
a triumph for us there!

Song of the White Snow:
Farewell to Secretary Wu on his Return to the Capital
Chen Sen (715-770)

The north wind rolls across the earth,
snapping the white grass stems,
It’s August; in the Altai sky,
a sudden snowstorm comes–
As swiftly as when overnight
the spring wind starts to blow,
And then ten thousand pear trees flower
in a white-blossomed glow.

The flakes seep through the pearled tent-flap,
dampen the thick silk screen,
Even fox furs are not so warm,
brocaded quilts seem thin;
The general may not draw to full
his frozen bow of horn;
The officers are loath to don
iron helm and brigandine.

The endless desert’s checked and barred
with furlong waves of ice,
A thousand li of gloomy clouds
freeze in paralysis.

At headquarters there’s wine, a feast
to toast the parting guest
With Altai viol and Pi Pa lute
and plaintive sweet Qiang flute;
It’s dusk, a heavy snow falls thick
outside the barracks gate,
Our red flags, tugged by a fierce gale,
have frozen stiff and straight.

At the east gatehouse of Lun Tai,
dear sir, I say farewell:
You go now when the snow is deep
along the Tian Shan trail;
Among the cliff-road’s twists and turns
I have lost sight of you;
In vain the snow records the place
your horse’s hoofprints fell.

On the Cloisters Behind the Temple of Mount Po
Chang Jian (awarded a degree in 727)

At dawn I slip into the ancient shrine;
The early sun has lit the sacred grove.
Bamboos; a path to a secluded glen
Where amid woods and flowers the Zen monks live.

The birds by nature love the mountain light;
The pool’s reflections purge the hearts of men.
Ten thousand noises here are silenced quite,
But for the sound of bell and clear chimestone.

Welcome to Secretary Huangpu
At the Villa of the Jade Ravine
Liu Changqin (729-780)

The empty village gives back planes of light,
The falling leaves swirl wildly round and round;
No traveler walks the ancient path today,
On the cold mountain none but you is found.

The country bridge was torn down by the rain,
The gully’s branching floods the fields confound.
If there were no friends to commiserate,
In these white clouds who’d ever come around?

Spring Vexation
Jin Changxu

I’ve given the yellow warblers a thrashing,
They’re not allowed to sing now in our tree;
They’ve waked your lonely wife while she was dreaming,
So I can’t find my way to Fort Liao Xi.

The West Ravine of Chu Zhou
Wei Yingwu (737-790)

My only love’s the far-off grass
on the ravine’s high walls,
Where hidden deep among the trees
cry yellow orioles.
The spring flood brings a sudden shower
now in the lonely dusk,
And the deserted ferry-boat
drags crosswise as rain falls.

Songs of the Frontier
(Nos. 2 and 3 of 6)
Lu Lun (748-800)

The forest’s dark, grass frightened by the wind;
At night the general draws his bow of horn;
They seek the arrow, find it in the dawn
Buried up to the white fletch in the stone.

The wild geese fly above a moonless sky;
At night the Hun chief’s army slips away.
No sooner had our horse gone in pursuit
Than bow and sword with snow were covered high.

Sung to a Melody of the South River Country
Li Yi (748-827)

I’m married to the merchant of Gu Tang,
But every day he puts off his return.
If I had known the tide keeps its own time,
I would have married that young river-boy.

Plucking Lotuses: a Song
Li Kangcheng (b. 750)

We’re lotus-gathering–
Moonset and dawn, the river in the spring.
Red sleeves damasked with emeralds
drift in the middle stream,
The green smells of the lotus buds
mix with our silks’ perfume.
But clouds come up, wind starts to blow,
it is a long way home,
It’s such a long way home,
can we no longer stay?
As each boat turns to leave,
it’s time to wave goodbye.

Distant View of the Luo Bridge
Meng Jiao (751-814)

Beneath the Tian Jin Bridge the ice
has just begun to show;
In Luo Yang City’s empty streets
no traveler will go;
Willows and elms are bare of leaves,
pavilions lie unused;
But in the bright moon brilliantly
I see Mount Song’s far snow.

Song of a Wayfarer
Meng Jiao (751-814)

The thread sewn by a mother’s loving hand
Now clothes the body of a wandering man.
Before he left she stitched each tiny stitch,
Dreading how long, how long he might be gone.

Ah, one-inch grassblade, can your heart requite
Those three spring months of growth, of splendid light?

The Cold Food Vigil
Han Hong (received degree 754)

Spring in the city; there’s nowhere
the petals do not fly;
Food’s eaten cold, the willows of
the palace bend and sigh.
At sunset, the Han emperor
passes out candles, though:
And in the Five Dukes’ mansions, now,
light smokes blow thinning by.

I Pass through a Mountain Village in the Rain
Wang Jian (765-830?)

A few cocks crow from house to house
in the unending rain;
A brook, bamboos, a slant plank bridge,
a winding village lane.
Sisters-in-law call out, to soak
the silkworms for their cull;
Neglected in the courtyard still
the jasmine blooms in vain.

A Stone, She Gazes after her Husband
Wang Jian (765-830?)

She gazes for her man,
the river’s long and lone;
Her head will never turn:
she has been changed to stone!

Through rain and wind day after day
endures the mountain peak;
When that far traveller comes back,
surely the stone will speak.

On Hearing Reverend Master Ying Play the Qin
Han Yu (768-824)

A boy and girl who whisper as they woo,
Half-loving, half-aggrieved, it’s “you” and “you;”
It rises to a grand and martial clang,
A battle-march, with warriors clattering.
Now floating clouds and willow-down
rootless, drift idly by,
The breeze between vast earth and sky
blows them, melting, along.
And now it’s like a host of chirping birds,
And suddenly a lonely phoenix’ song.
It climbs until it can no higher
for all its venturing,
Then drops at once a thousand feet
plunging from whence it sprang.
Alas, though I, unworthy, have two ears,
I knew not how to hear woodwind and string,
But since I’ve heard the play of Master Ying
I have been restless, cannot sit still long,
Put out my hand to stop the pain-sweet song,
Tears wet my clothes, I feel a sudden pang–
Ah, you are skilled indeed, dear Master Ying:
Do not set fire and ice to burn
my heart with ravishing!

Song of Liang Zhou
(First of three)
Zhang Ji (768?-830?)

A frontier city; dusk and rain;
low overhead geese fly.
New shoots of green asparagus
are all two inches high.
Camel-bells, countless, jangle far
across moraine and scree:
They should be carrying white silk
toward our lost An Xi.

Song of the Fearsome Tigers
Zhang Ji (768?-830?)

Through all the hills to north and south
the forest’s deep and dark,
In broad day tigers prowl around
the hamlet’s easy mark.
One of them blocks the path, at ease,
eating his evening meal;
Up in the hills the elk and deer
in silent terror lurk.

Each year they raise their brood of cubs
in gorges void of men;
Males and females, high rank or low
need not compete for gain,
For in the valley near their caves
a mountain village pays
The yellow calf that they demand
again and yet again.

The young men of the Five Tombs Post
don’t dare set shaft to string–
They check the woods, they see the tracks,
and do not do a thing.

Nocturne: Lying at Anchor by the Maple Bridge
Zhang Ji (768?-830?)

Moonset. The cawing of a crow.
Frost glitters through the sky.
Riverbank maples. Fishing lights.
Sick-hearted, here I lie.
The Han-Shan Temple’s far outside
The Suchow city gate;
The temple bell at midnight rings. A boat?
Some new guest? and so late?

Lament of the Conscript’s Wife
Zhang Ji (768?-830?)

In the ninth month the Hun hordes slew
the frontier generals:
The armies of the Han all drowned
where the Liao River rolls.
Nobody in ten thousand li
was left to find their bones;
Families buried dear ones’ souls
beneath the city walls.

A woman leans upon her man
and on her growing sons;
Our lives together, low and poor,
were still heart-happy ones.
My son is in my womb, my man
dead on the field’s cold stones;
My body lives, but its light dims–
a candle’s in the sun’s.
Song of the Loyal Wife
Zhang Ji (768?-830?)

That I am married, sir, you are aware,
Yet you gave me these two bright pearls to wear;
I sensed your feeling, warm and lingering,
And sewed them to my red silk jacket, there.

But my tall house, its gardens rare,
are not a paltry thing;
My husband is a halberdier
for Ming Guang’s royal king.
For your intentions, they are pure,
I know, as moon and sun;
But I have sworn to serve my lord
till death, as we were one.
So I return your pearls, and tears
roll down both cheeks today;
How bitter that we had not met
when I was given away!

Untitled
Master Han Shan (“Cold Mountain”): late 7th Century-early 8th Century

Free between smoky vines and rocky cave,
A lifelong self-content is all the Way.
I feel an open joy in wilderness,
Friend to the white clouds through each lazy day.

Paths there will be that don’t lead to this world;
Why climb when heart has no debts left to pay?
All night I sit on a stone bed alone;
Up the Cold Mountain the moon makes its way.

Xi Sai Mountain: A Meditation on the Past
Liu Yuxi (772-842)

When Wang Jun flung his high-decked fleets
at Yi Zhou’s ancient wall,
The royal chi of high Jinling
darkened, began to pall;
Ten thousand feet of iron chain
sank to the river-bed,
Processions of surrender-flags
marked the Stone City’s fall.

In human life how often we
lament old deeds of dread;
Unchanged, the mountain rests upon
the cold swift river-bend.
Today our home is all that lies
between the Four Seas spread,
But by the old fort still the reeds
moan in the autumn wind.

The Lane of the Black Robes
Liu Yuxi (772-842)

Beside the Scarlet Sparrow Bridge
wild grass and flowers grow;
Deep into Black Robe Lane the sun
now setting, slants its glow.

The birds that flocked the noble halls
of Wang and Xie long past
Fly through the humble dwellings of
the common people now.

Bamboo Frond Song
Liu Yuxi (772-842)

Within the river-water’s glass
The willow’s green is green.
I hear your dear voice by the stream
Singing a song unseen.

Within the east the sun shines bright,
But in the west there’s rain;
If one face of your weather’s dark,
the other face is fine.

On Parting from a Friend on the Ancient Grasslands
Bai Juyi (772-846)

The grass grows thick upon the ancient plain,
Each year a withering and flourishing;
Wildfires may burn it but it flowers again
Never exhausted, in the winds of spring.

Sweeps of sweetgrass invade the ancient way,
Jade in the sun to the abandoned town;
Again I see my young prince ride away
And grief grows thick within me when he’s gone.

Spring Outing at Qiang Tang Lake
Bai Juyi (772-846)

West of Lord Jia’s Pavilion,
north of Lone Mountain Shrine,
The lake’s calm face has stilled at last,
clouds hug the waterline.
The early warblers, here and there,
pick out the warmest trees,
Spring swallows peck–whose household, where?–
clay to build colonies.

Soon tumbled flowers will overwhelm
the dazzled eyes of men;
The new grass scarcely hides the hooves
of my horse as he moves.
The eastern lakeshore most I love,
I cannot roam enough
Within the soft green willow-shade
by the white sandy bluff.

The Fat of the Land
Bai Juyi (772-846)

A cavalcade of arrogance rides through,
Harness and horse so bright the mere dust shines;
And may I ask what do these people do?
They’re the imperial eunuch chamberlains.

If he’s in red robes, he’s a bureaucrat,
If in a purple sash, a general;
Off to the army banquet, proud of that,
They gallop past, like clouds before a squall.

Nine vintages the flagons overspill,
Dainties from lake and land are spread to please;
They split the juicy Dong Ting oranges,
Spear morsels of sweet perch from heaven’s seas.

They’ve drunk and eaten to their hearts’ content:
Puffed up still more with airs, they’re merry then.
This year there’s drought in the south continent;
In Qu Zhou men now eat the flesh of men.

Buying Flowers
Bai Juyi (772-846)

Spring’s almost over in the capital, and so
Horses and carts go bustling to and fro.
The people cry “Peony time is here!”,
Crowd to buy flowers, careless what they owe.

They’re cheap or dear, there is no constant price;
If you buy many, then the cost is low;
“Look here, a hundred brightest crimson flowers:
Five bolts of white silk only, fresh to go!”

Above, an awning’s spread against the sun,
A wicker fence protects them where they grow;
Sprinkled with water, roots packed tight with mud,
The flowers keep their color and their glow.

Each household is accustomed to this now,
Everyone’s blinded by obsession though,
Except for one old peasant who sometimes
Comes to buy flowers here, and sees the show:

Alone, he heaves a long sigh, head hung low,
A sigh whose meaning no-one else can know:
One clump of dark-hued flowers costs as much
As land-tax that ten middling households owe!

The Old Charcoal-Seller
Bai Juyi (772-846)

There is an ancient charcoal-selling man;
He cuts down timber, burns it slow,
High on Mount Zhongnan Shan.

His face ingrained with dust and ash
Is browned with charcoal smoke,
His temples grey with age and toil,
His fingers black as coke.

You sell the charcoal, you get paid,
How do you spend the gains?
To clothe the body’s nakedness,
And feed the hunger pains.

Though only thin rags hang upon
His wretched arms and thighs,
He hopes the winter will be cold
So charcoal’s price will rise.

An inch of snow fell overnight,
He makes an early start;
Down from the hills through rutted ice
He drives the charcoal-cart.

The ox gets tired, the man is starved,
The sun has risen higher,
He rests outside the Southern Gate
Upon the market mire.

Two horsemen lightly canter up;
Who are they? By their dress,
One in yellow, one in plain white,
They’re couriers, more or less.

With dispatches in hand, they shout
“Imperial command!”
The old man turns his cart, the ox
Drags the whole burden round.

One cart of charcoal’s half a ton;
North to the palace gate
The envoys chivvy him, and now
He must unload the weight.

In grief he’s paid but half a bolt
Of muslin, dyed cheap red,
And but nine feet of low-grade silk
Flung round the ox’s head.

Night Snow
Bai Juyi (772-846)

The quilt and pillow have got strangely cold;
The window’s paper panes begin to glow.
At night I heard how heavy was the snow–
The bamboos, snapped by more than they could hold.

Snow River
Liu Zongyuan (773-819)

Birds fly no more among these thousand hills,
Men’s footprints blank along ten thousand ways:
With boat, straw hat and cape one old man stays
Fishing alone in the snow-river’s chills.

Ascending the Barbican of Liu Prefecture
For the four governors of Zhang, Ting, Feng, and Lian
Liu Zongyuan (773-819)

The great tower on the city wall
adjoins a vast wide land;
Huge sea-and-sky thoughts trouble me,
so hard to understand.
A sudden gust of wind disturbs
the lotus in the pool;
Thick rain slants down, invades the fig
where on the wall it’s trained.

A thousand li the layers of trees
hinder the yearning eye,
The River Liu’s far loopings bend
as grief’s nine heartstrings wind:
Amid a hundred tribes’ tattoos
together we’re exiled,
But messages are late and slow
here in this foreign land.

The Old Fisherman
Liu Zongyuan (773-819)

At night beside the western cliff
he sleeps in his lean-to;
At dawn he drinks the bright clear Xiang,
burns the bamboos of Chu.

The smoke is gone, the sun comes out,
by now he is unseen:
Only the creaking of an oar
in crags and waters green.

Far down the middle reaches he
turns back and sees the view,
Empty of mind, above the cliffs,
the idle clouds pursue.

The Country Palace
Yuan Zhen (779-831)

The old imperial lodge is bare and worn;
The palace garden’s flowers bloom forlorn.
The last court ladies idle, tresses white,
Murmur the name of Xuan Zong, Heaven-born.

The Gentle Swordsman
Jia Dao (779-843)

For ten years I have honed this single sword;
Its ice-bright blade has never yet been tried.
Today I draw and show it to you, lord;
Are there injustices unrectified?

I Visit The Hermit, But He Is Not There
Jia Dao (779-843)

I ask the boy beneath the dark green pine;
The master’s gathering herbs, he would suppose.
Where? On the mountain somewhere. And which way?
–Deep in the clouds, but where, nobody knows.

A Pair of Ancient Ballads
Sympathy for the peasants
Lin Shen (780-846)

In spring you plant just one small millet-seed,
In autumn reap ten thousand ears of grain;
Between the Four Seas lies no idle land,
Yet still the farmer starves to death in pain.

Beneath the noonday sun he hoes up weeds,
His sweat falls earthwards to the crop it feeds;
Know, you who think a meal comes on a plate,
The hot and bitter toil that each grain needs!

Inscribed on a Door in the South Neighborhood of the Capital
Cui Hu (awarded a degree in 796)

Within this very entrance hall
today one year ago
The pink peach-blossoms and her face
gave back each other’s glow.

I do not know where is the place
where that soft face has gone;
But the peach blooms remain, and still
smile when the spring winds blow.

Southern Garden (1)
Li He (791-816)

Blossoming branches, trailing flowers
open within my eye;
The paler white and richer rose
blush like the girls of Yueh.
At evening, lovely, pitiful,
the fragrant petals fall;
Wed to the winds of spring, they need
no matchmaker at all.

The Copper-Gold God’s Farewell to the Realm of Han:
Song, with Preface
Li He (791-816)

In August of the ninth Blue Dragon year in the reign of the Ming Emperor of the Wei Dynasty, palace officers were ordered to convey from the west the image of that Immortal Being who holds a dish to collect dewdrops, and to place it before the palace fronting the new imperial complex. When the officers had dismantled the god from his base, he wept, and the tears trickled down his face. Many years later, reflecting upon this incident, Li Changji, royal offspring of the Tang Dynasty, wrote:

That Liu in the Mao tomb is but
a guest in the Fall wind;
At night one hears his horses neigh,
at dawn no trace is seen.
Sweet laurel fragrance hangs between
autumnal balustrades,
Thirty-six palaces now lie
under the mosses green.

“Wei guards set out to drag my wain
wellnigh a thousand li,
The dart-like gale of the East Pass
pierced my eye cruelly.
Only the Han moon by the gate
remained to bid farewell;
Bright tears of molten lead, my lord,
recall your memory.”

And drooping orchids said goodbye
beside the Xian Yan Way,
If Heaven itself can feel at all,
Heaven must age, as we.
He took his dew-dish out alone
beneath the moon-bleak sky;
The town of Wei is far away,
silent its waters’ sigh.

Song: the Commander of Wild Goose Gate
Li He (791-816)

Black clouds crush down the city wall,
the city soon shall fall,
But suddenly the sun’s bright face
flashes on armor scale;
The sky is full of ringing horns
in the autumnal light,
About the fortress blood like rouge
clots purple in the night.

Red banners, furled, now march against
the fatal river Yi,
So bitter is the frost, the drum
beats dull and heavily.
On the Gold Platform those kind gifts
given me by my lord
I shall repay, although I die,
with my Jade Dragon sword.

Song of the Old Jade Miner
Li He (791-816)

Dig the jade, dig the jade,
the emerald-water hue;
Carved for a pendant it will serve
a pretty lady’s glow.
A little man, starving and cold,
creek-dragons pity me,
The Blue Creek waters roil and cloud
and lose their clarity.

Upon the clifftop, in night rain,
on hazelnuts I dine;
It’s said the cuckoo’s beak sings blood,
as this poor man weeps now;
The Blue Creek hates the strangers who
disturb its waters’ flow;
And when my body’s dead, my soul
will hate these waters too.

Howling through crags and cypresses
the gusty raindrops blow,
Upon a swinging rope I hang,
the green spring far below.
My white hut’s in the village cold;
I miss my babies dear;
On old stepped terraces of stone
grows grass called “fatherwoe.”

Upon the Sounds of Li Ping’s Overture for the Kong Hou
Li He (791-816)

Wu silk, Shu polished wood resound
into the high Fall sky,
The empty mountain, curdled clouds,
becalmed by their sad cry.
The nymph’s tears speckle the bamboos,
White Goddess sighs with woe,
For Li Ping plays his great Kong Hou
in the high town of Zhou.

The shattering of Mount Kun jade,
the phoenix’s wild scream,
The weeping of the lotus-dew,
sweet orchids’ laughing dream. . .
The cold light by the twelve great gates
melts in the music’s thaw,
Twenty-three silken strings vibrate
the Purple Emperor.

The goddess Nü Wo melted stone
to mend the war-torn sky,
The sky, shocked by the breaking stone,
stirs the Fall rain to fly.
The dreamsong threads god-mountain caves,
makes the old witches gay,
The ancient fishes leap the waves,
dancing flood-dragons play.

When Wu Zhi could not sleep, he leaned
on the sweet laurel tree;
The dewdrops fly aslant upon
Moon-rabbit’s chill wet ray.

Dream Sky
Li He (791-816)

A rabbit old, a toad of cold
Weep heaven-colored tears;
Across the cloud-tower’s opening door
A slant of white appears.

The jade wheel crushes out the dew,
Soaking its ring of light,
Jade-Phoenix meets me on the Way,
Sweet laurel scents the night.

Beneath the Three Peaks land and sea
Exchange, transmogrify;
A thousand turning years flit past
As horses gallop by;

I gaze at China, its nine realms
But points of smoke sent up,
The sea is but a puddle spilled
Out of a water-cup.

Presented to Mr. Zhang of the Water Ministry on the Eve of my Examination
Zhu Qing Yu (797-?)

The bridal chamber glowed last night
with the red candle’s seal;
I wait to greet new parents soon
at dawn in the great hall.
Dressed and made up, I whisper now:
“Lord husband, do you feel
My brows are brushed too black, or not,
to suit the present style?”

Moored by the Chin Huai River
Du Mu (803-852)

Mist clothes the chilly water as
the moonlight clothes the sand;
My boat’s tied up on the Chin Huai,
the wineshops close at hand.

The singer-girls have not a care
lest their homeland should fall;
Across the river still they sing
“The Flower Behind the Hall.”

Spring in the South River Country
Du Mu (803-852)

A thousand li the warblers sing,
green-crimson symmetries;
Brook-hamlets, hilltop city walls,
wine-banners in the breeze.

The Southern Dynasty held once
four hundred eighty shrines;
How many tall pagodas stood
amid the mists and rains!

Mountain Journey
Du Mu (803-852)

I took the winding rocky path
High in the mountain chill;
The white clouds deepened, but there were
Some human homesteads still;

I stopped my wagon, for I love
Late maple groves in Fall,
Whose frost-struck leaves are redder than
The spring flowers’ festival.

Parting Gift (Second of Two)
Du Mu (803-852)

As always, I feel much but can show nothing,
I feel I cannot smile over the wine;
The candle’s heart, its wick, grieves for our parting,
And wax tears flow till dawn in place of mine.

Autumn Night
Du Mu (803-852)

Upon a painted screen a candle throws
A cold autumnal glow;
She flaps a tiny fan of fragile silk
Against the fireflies’ flow;

The dim stairs under the night sky are chill
As water where she lies;
Two stars, the Cowherd and the Weaver-Girl,
Shine, parted, in her eyes.

Song of the Boy Cowherd
Li She (b. 806)

At dawn he drives his cow,
He drives his cow down to the river-bow.
At night he drives his cow
Home to the village in the deep vale’s brow.

In his straw rain-cape, from the woods
he wends in thin spring rain;
Lying on green grass in the sand
his flute he starts to blow.
He’s stuck his “arrows”–fleabane stalks–
into his belt, so now
He doesn’t fear the tiger fierce
who’d scare his yellow cow.

Hearing a Bell
(on Cold Mountain)
Jiao Ran (middle Tang period)

From the old shrine on Han Shan comes a clang,
A far bell like the sweet wind’s spreading song.
The Moon-Tree rings with its long lingering,
The frosty sky is emptied by its gong.
Long through the night the seeker after Zen
Lets the mind chill, and still, and hang.

For a Young Man
Wen Ting Yun (812-870?)

We met by chance while voyaging,
both homesick, both alone,
Beneath the windblown autumn leaves,
where Dong Ting’s waves roll in.
Tonight let’s drink, bid farewell at
the market of Huai Yin;
The moon gleams on the tall-decked tower–
let’s sing one last song then!

Early Departure on Mount Shang
Wen Ting Yun (812-870?)

At dawn we rise to go, the horse-bells chime,
The traveler pining for his native home.
Cockcrow; the deep-thatched guest-house; the pale moon;
Footprints in the plank bridge’s frosty rime.

Oak leaves are falling on the mountain trail,
On the Post’s wall bright orange-blossoms climb;
The Du Tomb that I dreamed of comes to mind:
Its pond is full of wild geese, just come home.

The Moon Goddess Chang E
Li Shangyin (813-858)

A mica screen; a candle throws
long shadows on the wall;
The heavenly river slides; dawn comes,
and now the last stars fall.
Chang E regrets now that she stole
the elixir of life,
Night after night with restless heart:
jade sea, blue sky is all.

Untitled
Li Shangyin (813-858)

Last night it was all wind and star,
last night was wind and star;
Eastward there was the Laurel Hall,
westward the Painted Tower.
Though we’re not tinted phoenixes
fledged with each other’s wings,
Our hearts are of the magic horn,
joined at its secret core.

Apart by day we played “My Fish!”,
drinking the warm sweet wine,
Divided, played the Guessing Game,
at the red candle hour;
Sighing I hear the dawn drum call
me to the hall of State,
Swept off on horseback as the wind
sweeps leaves for evermore.

The Inlaid Zither
Li Shangyin (813-858)

Why should this inlaid zither have
just fifty silken strings?
Each string, each fret reminds me of
one year of my flowerings.
Young Zhuang woke from his dream confused:
was he a butterfly?
Lord Wang in spring gave his heart to
a cuckoo’s murmurings.

The bright moon on the azure sea
stirs tears in the pearl,
The warm sun on the Blue Stone Field
engenders smoke from jade:
How could these feelings, then, become
enduring memory,
Which, at the time, were full, themselves,
of disappointment’s shade?

The Palace of the Sui Emperor
Li Shangyin (813-858)

The palace by the Purple Spring
is swathed in rose smoke-pall.
You’d take a city laid to waste
to be your capital.
But the Jade Seal, not meant for you,
came to a sun-born brow;
You’d hoped your brocade sails would reach
the far shores of it all.

Since you, no fireflies breed within
the dying grass of Fall;
But the drooped poplar trees at dusk
still mark the crows’ old call.
If in the underworld you find
House Chen’s last emperor,
Would it be meet to ask about
“The Flower behind the Hall”?

A Letter to the North
Written on a Rainy Night
Li Shangyin (813-858)

You ask me when I will return,
return I can’t say when;
Here in the Sichuan mountains, night
swells the Fall ponds with rain.
When, by our western window, shall
we trim the candleflame,
Remember that dark mountain night
and the Fall rain again?

Le Yuan You
(A high plateau south of Chang-an)
Li Shangyin (813-858)

As evening fell, in some disquiet of spirit
I drove my wagon up on the high plain.
The sunset’s loveliness was infinite,
But yellow dusk was coming all too soon.

A Fine Evening
Li Shangyin (813-858)

I’m snug above this double-layered city,
Though spring is gone, my summer still shines clear;
Heaven yet blesses the secluded grasses,
It is the golden evening men hold dear.

And from my high pavilion I see far;
Mild light pours through my little window here;
The Yueh birds’ nests are dry now; they fly home,
Their bodies lighter in this clear bright air.

The Bian River Reach of the Grand Canal: A Meditation
Pi Ri Xiu (834-883?)

Everyone says the House of Sui
fell with this waterway,
Yet ever since, we have relied
on its good thousand li.
Without the floating palaces
and dragon barges, he
Might not fall short of great Yu’s fame
and be revered today.

A Picture of Jin Ling
Wei Zhuang (836-910)

It rains and rains upon the river,
the grass grows thick and high;
Six dynasties have fled like dreams,
the birds inanely cry.
How utterly indifferent are
the willows by the Wall,
Shrouded in mist for these ten li,
as the low dike goes by.

Lament of the Peasant Family
Nie Yizhong (837-c. 884)

By February they’ve sold the raw cocoons,
By May they’ve sold the seedcrop of the grain;
As if to heal a sore upon the skin
They’d cut flesh from the heart and graft it in.

I hope the heart of our high emperor
Will turn into a candle warm and bright–
Not in a banquet’s fancy chandelier,
But for abandoned farms the one true light.

The Widow in the Mountains
Du Xun He (846-907)

Her husband died in war; she keeps
their thatched house on her own.
Sackcloth and burlap are her clothes,
her hair is dull and wan.
The silkworm mulberries lie waste,
yet levies must be paid;
The field and garden run to seed
but the grain-tax goes on.

Now often she must pluck wild herbs
to thicken her weak gruel,
Hack up fresh sticks still green with leaves
to feed her fire–alone.
Deep in the deepest mountain-vale
there is no trick to fool
Or stave off the corvée’s harsh weight
and land-tax hard as stone!

Farewell to a Friend on his Departure for the Land of Wu
Du Xun He (846-907)

In Suchow, sir, here’s what will greet your eyes:
The homes all nestled on the riverside,
The ancient palaces, scant open space,
A crowd of docks, small bridges far and wide.

At night they’re selling ling and lotus root;
“Spring-boats” are gay with gauze and silken braid.
Though far, I’ll know the moon won’t let you sleep,
Homesick, with fishing songs on every side.

Poor Girl
Qin Tao Yu (awarded a degree in 882)

A wicker door has barred me from
the fragrant silk brocade;
I seek a clever matchmaker
but am a poor sad maid.
Who is there, tasteful and refined,
keeping a lofty style,
Who will with me enjoy the years
frugally well-arrayed?

I dare praise my ten fingers’ skill
with needle, yarn, and lisle;
I do not draw my eyebrows long,
compete with paint and shade.
But year by year in grief I press
the gold thread into braid
On skirts and bodices that are
for others’ weddings made!

Ode to the Chrysanthemums
Huang Chao (?-884)

The west wind rustles in the yard
that’s thick with your full flower,
But chill your stamens, cold your scent;
no butterflies fly here.
If in another year I were
Spring’s great green emperor,
I’d grant you, with the noble peach,
to bloom the selfsame hour.

Overnight on the Xiang River, in Autumn Rain
Tan Yong Zhi (late Tang)

Moored on the river in dark cloud,
my soul is locked in dream:
There on the midnight bank, Liu Kun
drills with his sword of fame.
The Fall wind sweeps ten thousand li
across Hibiscus-Land,
Dusk rain drenches a thousand farms
where figtrees climb the beam.

Homesick, I cannot bear the sweet
and bitter orange mood;
Who cares about a traveler
or his illustrious name?
That fisherman can see me, but
won’t greet me all the same:
He hears a whistle and turns back
toward his island home.

Fisherman upon the River
Fan Zhongyan (939-1052)

Upon the river people come and go,
The sweet perch-flesh the only thing they crave.
See that boat, sir, like a tiny leaf,
Rising and sinking in the wind and wave.

Inscribed on a Temple Wall
Su Shi (1037-1101)

Face-on, a whole range meets the eye;
Side-on, one peak stands clear.
From near or far, or low or high,
It’s different everywhere.

I cannot know Mount Lu’s true face,
And here’s the reason why:
I am myself part of this place,
Within its rock and sky.