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An audience like mountains lost among themselves.

Du Fu

A SONG OF DAGGER-DANCING TO A GIRL-PUPIL

OF LADY GONGSUN

On the 19th of the Tenth-month in the second year of Dali, I saw, in the house of the Kueifu official Yuante, a girl named Li from Lingying dancing with a dagger. I admired her skill and asked who was her teacher. She named Lady Gongsun. I remembered that in the third year of Kaiyuan at Yancheng, when I was a little boy, I saw Lady Gongsun dance. She was the only one in the Imperial Theatre who could dance with this weapon. Now she is aged and unknown, and even her pupil has passed the heyday of beauty. I wrote this poem to express my wistfulness. The work of Zhang Xu of the Wu district, that great master of grassy writing, was improved by his having been present when Lady Gongsun danced in the Yeh district. From this may be judged the art of Gongsun.

There lived years ago the beautiful Gongsun,

Who, dancing with her dagger, drew from all four quarters

An audience like mountains lost among themselves.

Heaven and earth moved back and forth, following her motions,

Which were bright as when the Archer shot the nine suns down the sky

And rapid as angels before the wings of dragons.

She began like a thunderbolt, venting its anger,

And ended like the shining calm of rivers and the sea….

But vanished are those red lips and those pearly sleeves;

And none but this one pupil bears the perfume of her fame,

This beauty from Lingying, at the Town of the White God,

Dancing still and singing in the old blithe way.

And while we reply to each other’s questions,

We sigh together, saddened by changes that have come.

There were eight thousand ladies in the late Emperor’s court,

But none could dance the dagger-dance like Lady Gongsun.

…Fifty years have passed, like the turning of a palm;

Wind and dust, filling the world, obscure the Imperial House.

Instead of the Pear-Garden Players, who have blown by like a mist,

There are one or two girl-musicians now-trying to charm the cold Sun.

There are man-size trees by the Emperor’s Golden Tomb

I seem to hear dead grasses rattling on the cliffs of Qutang.

…The song is done, the slow string and quick pipe have ceased.

At the height of joy, sorrow comes with the eastern moon rising.

And I, a poor old man, not knowing where to go,

Must harden my feet on the lone hills, toward sickness and despair.

Wildgeese flying high, sun and moon both white,

Du Fu

A LETTER TO CENSOR HAN

I am sad. My thoughts are in Youzhou.

I would hurry there-but I am sick in bed.

…Beauty would be facing me across the autumn waters.

Oh, to wash my feet in Lake Dongting and see at its eight corners

Wildgeese flying high, sun and moon both white,

Green maples changing to red in the frosty sky,

Angels bound for the Capital of Heaven, near the North Star,

Riding, some of them phrenixes, and others unicorns,

With banners of hibiscus and with melodies of mist,

Their shadows dancing upside-down in the southern rivers,

Till the Queen of the Stars, drowsy with her nectar,

Would forget the winged men on either side of her!

…From the Wizard of the Red Pine this word has come for me:

That after his earlier follower he has now a new disciple

Who, formerly at the capital as Emperor Liu’s adviser,

In spite of great successes, never could be happy.

…What are a country’s rise and fall?

Can flesh-pots be as fragrant as mountain fruit?….

I grieve that he is lost far away in the south.

May the star of long life accord him its blessing!

…O purity, to seize you from beyond the autumn waters

And to place you as an offering in the Court of Imperial Jade.


Du Fu

A SONG OF AN OLD CYPRESS

 

Beside the Temple of the Great Premier stands an ancient cypress

With a trunk of green bronze and a root of stone.

The girth of its white bark would be the reach of forty men

And its tip of kingfish-blue is two thousand feet in heaven.

Dating from the days of a great ruler’s great statesman,

Their very tree is loved now and honoured by the people.

Clouds come to it from far away, from the Wu cliffs,

And the cold moon glistens on its peak of snow.

…East of the Silk Pavilion yesterday I found

The ancient ruler and wise statesman both worshipped in one temple,

Whose tree, with curious branches, ages the whole landscape

In spite of the fresh colours of the windows and the doors.

And so firm is the deep root, so established underground,

That its lone lofty boughs can dare the weight of winds,

Its only protection the Heavenly Power,

Its only endurance the art of its Creator.

Though oxen sway ten thousand heads, they cannot move a mountain.

…When beams are required to restore a great house,

Though a tree writes no memorial, yet people understand

That not unless they fell it can use be made of it….

Its bitter heart may be tenanted now by black and white ants,

But its odorous leaves were once the nest of phoenixes and pheasants.

…Let wise and hopeful men harbour no complaint.

The greater the timber, the tougher it is to use.

Letting wealth and fame drift by like clouds

Du Fu

A SONG OF A PAINTING TO GENERAL CAO

O General, descended from Wei’s Emperor Wu,

You are nobler now than when a noble….

Conquerors and their velour perish,

But masters of beauty live forever.

…With your brush-work learned from Lady Wei

And second only to Wang Xizhi’s,

Faithful to your art, you know no age,

Letting wealth and fame drift by like clouds.

…In the years of Kaiyuan you were much with the Emperor,

Accompanied him often to the Court of the South Wind.

When the spirit left great statesmen, on walls of the Hall of Fame

The point of your brush preserved their living faces.

You crowned all the premiers with coronets of office;

You fitted all commanders with arrows at their girdles;

You made the founders of this dynasty, with every hair alive,

Seem to be just back from the fierceness of a battle.

…The late Emperor had a horse, known as Jade Flower,

Whom artists had copied in various poses.

They led him one day to the red marble stairs

With his eyes toward the palace in the deepening air.

Then, General, commanded to proceed with your work,

You centred all your being on a piece of silk.

And later, when your dragon-horse, born of the sky,

Had banished earthly horses for ten thousand generations,

There was one Jade Flower standing on the dais

And another by the steps, and they marvelled at each other….

The Emperor rewarded you with smiles and with gifts,

While officers and men of the stud hung about and stared.

…Han Gan, your follower, has likewise grown proficient

At representing horses in all their attitudes;

But picturing the flesh, he fails to draw the bone-

So that even the finest are deprived of their spirit.

You, beyond the mere skill, used your art divinely-

And expressed, not only horses, but the life of a good man….

Yet here you are, wandering in a world of disorder

And sketching from time to time some petty passerby

People note your case with the whites of their eyes.

There’s nobody purer, there’s nobody poorer.

…Read in the records, from earliest times,

How hard it is to be a great artist.

Throughout this dynasty no one had painted horses

Du Fu

A DRAWING OF A HORSE BY GENERAL CAO

AT SECRETARY WEI FENG’S HOUSE

Throughout this dynasty no one had painted horses

Like the master-spirit, Prince Jiangdu —

And then to General Cao through his thirty years of fame

The world’s gaze turned, for royal steeds.

He painted the late Emperor’s luminous white horse.

For ten days the thunder flew over Dragon Lake,

And a pink-agate plate was sent him from the palace-

The talk of the court-ladies, the marvel of all eyes.

The General danced, receiving it in his honoured home

After this rare gift, followed rapidly fine silks

From many of the nobles, requesting that his art

Lend a new lustre to their screens.

…First came the curly-maned horse of Emperor Taizong,

Then, for the Guos, a lion-spotted horse….

But now in this painting I see two horses,

A sobering sight for whosoever knew them.

They are war- horses. Either could face ten thousand.

They make the white silk stretch away into a vast desert.

And the seven others with them are almost as noble

Mist and snow are moving across a cold sky,

And hoofs are cleaving snow-drifts under great trees-

With here a group of officers and there a group of servants.

See how these nine horses all vie with one another-

The high clear glance, the deep firm breath.

…Who understands distinction? Who really cares for art?

You, Wei Feng, have followed Cao; Zhidun preceded him.

…I remember when the late Emperor came toward his Summer Palace,

The procession, in green-feathered rows, swept from the eastern sky —

Thirty thousand horses, prancing, galloping,

Fashioned, every one of them, like the horses in this picture….

But now the Imperial Ghost receives secret jade from the River God,

For the Emperor hunts crocodiles no longer by the streams.

Where you see his Great Gold Tomb, you may hear among the pines

A bird grieving in the wind that the Emperor’s horses are gone.

Where, west of the Hill of Gold, the Tartar chieftain has halted

Cen Can

A SONG OF WHEEL TOWER IN FAREWELL TO GENERAL

FENG OF THE WESTERN EXPEDITION

On Wheel Tower parapets night-bugles are blowing,

Though the flag at the northern end hangs limp.

Scouts, in the darkness, are passing Quli,

Where, west of the Hill of Gold, the Tartar chieftain has halted

We can see, from the look-out, the dust and black smoke

Where Chinese troops are camping, north of Wheel Tower.

…Our flags now beckon the General farther west-

With bugles in the dawn he rouses his Grand Army;

Drums like a tempest pound on four sides

And the Yin Mountains shake with the shouts of ten thousand;

Clouds and the war-wind whirl up in a point

Over fields where grass-roots will tighten around white bones;

In the Dagger River mist, through a biting wind,

Horseshoes, at the Sand Mouth line, break on icy boulders.

…Our General endures every pain, every hardship,

Commanded to settle the dust along the border.

We have read, in the Green Books, tales of old days-

But here we behold a living man, mightier than the dead.


Cen Can

A SONG OF WHITE SNOW IN FAREWELL

TO FIELD-CLERK WU GOING HOME

 

The north wind rolls the white grasses and breaks them;

And the Eighth-month snow across the Tartar sky

Is like a spring gale, come up in the night,

Blowing open the petals of ten thousand peartrees.

It enters the pearl blinds, it wets the silk curtains;

A fur coat feels cold, a cotton mat flimsy;

Bows become rigid, can hardly be drawn

And the metal of armour congeals on the men;

The sand-sea deepens with fathomless ice,

And darkness masses its endless clouds;

But we drink to our guest bound home from camp,

And play him barbarian lutes, guitars, harps;

Till at dusk, when the drifts are crushing our tents

And our frozen red flags cannot flutter in the wind,

We watch him through Wheel-Tower Gate going eastward.

Into the snow-mounds of Heaven-Peak Road….

And then he disappears at the turn of the pass,

Leaving behind him only hoof-prints.

That I am glad to be an exile here in this wild southland

Liu Zongyuan

DWELLING BY A STREAM

I had so long been troubled by official hat and robe

That I am glad to be an exile here in this wild southland.

I am a neighbour now of planters and reapers.

I am a guest of the mountains and woods.

I plough in the morning, turning dewy grasses,

And at evening tie my fisher-boat, breaking the quiet stream.

Back and forth I go, scarcely meeting anyone,

And sing a long poem and gaze at the blue sky.


Wang Changling

AT A BORDER-FORTRESS

Cicadas complain of thin mulberry-trees

In the Eighth-month chill at the frontier pass.

Through the gate and back again, all along the road,

There is nothing anywhere but yellow reeds and grasses

And the bones of soldiers from You and from Bing

Who have buried their lives in the dusty sand.

…Let never a cavalier stir you to envy

With boasts of his horse and his horsemanship


Wang Changling

UNDER A BORDER-FORTRESS

Drink, my horse, while we cross the autumn water!-

The stream is cold and the wind like a sword,

As we watch against the sunset on the sandy plain,

Far, far away, shadowy Lingtao.

Old battles, waged by those long walls,

Once were proud on all men’s tongues.

But antiquity now is a yellow dust,

Confusing in the grasses its ruins and white bones.


Li Bai

THE MOON AT THE FORTIFIED PASS

The bright moon lifts from the Mountain of Heaven

In an infinite haze of cloud and sea,

And the wind, that has come a thousand miles,

Beats at the Jade Pass battlements….

China marches its men down Baideng Road

While Tartar troops peess

across blue waters of the bay….

And since not one battle famous in history

Sent all its fighters back again,

The soldiers turn round, looking toward the border,

And think of home, with wistful eyes,

And of those tonight in the upper chambers

Who toss and sigh and cannot rest.

I have come out of town to be free this morning

Wei Yingwu

EAST OF THE TOWN

From office confinement all year long,

I have come out of town to be free this morning

Where willows harmonize the wind

And green hills lighten the cares of the world.

I lean by a tree and rest myself

Or wander up and down a stream.

…Mists have wet the fragrant meadows;

A spring dove calls from some hidden place.

…With quiet surroundings, the mind is at peace,

But beset with affairs, it grows restless again….

Here I shall finally build me a cabin,

As Tao Qian built one long ago.


Wei Yingwu

TO MY DAUGHTER

ON HER MARRIAGE INTO THE YANG FAMILY

My heart has been heavy all day long

Because you have so far to go.

The marriage of a girl, away from her parents,

Is the launching of a little boat on a great river.

…You were very young when your mother died,

Which made me the more tender of you.

Your elder sister has looked out for you,

And now you are both crying and cannot part.

This makes my grief the harder to bear;

Yet it is right that you should go.

…Having had from childhood no mother to guide you,

How will you honour your mother-in-law?

It’s an excellent family; they will be kind to you,

They will forgive you your mistakes —

Although ours has been so pure and poor

That you can take them no great dowry.

Be gentle and respectful, as a woman should be,

Careful of word and look, observant of good example.

…After this morning we separate,

There’s no knowing for how long….

I always try to hide my feelings —

They are suddenly too much for me,

When I turn and see my younger daughter

With the tears running down her cheek.


Liu Zongyuan

READING BUDDHIST CLASSICS WITH ZHAO

AT HIS TEMPLE IN THE EARLY MORNING

I clean my teeth in water drawn from a cold well;

And while I brush my clothes, I purify my mind;

Then, slowly turning pages in the Tree-Leaf Book,

I recite, along the path to the eastern shelter.

…The world has forgotten the true fountain of this teaching

And people enslave themselves to miracles and fables.

Under the given words I want the essential meaning,

I look for the simplest way to sow and reap my nature.

Here in the quiet of the priest’s templecourtyard,

Mosses add their climbing colour to the thick bamboo;

And now comes the sun, out of mist and fog,

And pines that seem to be new-bathed;

And everything is gone from me, speech goes, and reading,

Leaving the single unison.

In Yangzhou trees linger bell-notes of evening

Wei Yingwu

SETTING SAIL ON THE YANGZI

TO SECRETARY YUAN

Wistful, away from my friends and kin,

Through mist and fog I float and float

With the sail that bears me toward Loyang.

In Yangzhou trees linger bell-notes of evening,

Marking the day and the place of our parting….

When shall we meet again and where?

…Destiny is a boat on the waves,

Borne to and fro, beyond our will.


Wei Yingwu

A POEM TO A TAOIST HERMIT

CHUANJIAO MOUNTAIN

My office has grown cold today;

And I suddenly think of my mountain friend

Gathering firewood down in the valley

Or boiling white stones for potatoes in his hut….

I wish I might take him a cup of wine

To cheer him through the evening storm;

But in fallen leaves that have heaped the bare slopes,

How should I ever find his footprints!


Wei Yingwu

Out of the east you visit me,

With the rain of Baling still on your clothes,

I ask you what you have come here for;

You say: “To buy an ax for cutting wood in the mountains”

…Hidden deep in a haze of blossom,

Swallow fledglings chirp at ease

As they did when we parted, a year ago….

How grey our temples have grown since them!


Wei Yingwu

MOORING AT TWILIGHT IN YUYI DISTRICT

 

Furling my sail near the town of Huai,

I find for harbour a little cove

Where a sudden breeze whips up the waves.

The sun is growing dim now and sinks in the dusk.

People are coming home. The bright mountain-peak darkens.

Wildgeese fly down to an island of white weeds.

…At midnight I think of a northern city-gate,

And I hear a bell tolling between me and sleep.


Wei Yingwu

EAST OF THE TOWN

 

From office confinement all year long,

I have come out of town to be free this morning

Where willows harmonize the wind

And green hills lighten the cares of the world.

I lean by a tree and rest myself

Or wander up and down a stream.

…Mists have wet the fragrant meadows;

A spring dove calls from some hidden place.

…With quiet surroundings, the mind is at peace,

But beset with affairs, it grows restless again….

Here I shall finally build me a cabin,

As Tao Qian built one long ago.

And I could sleep soundly and late in the morning

Yuan Jie

TO THE TAX-COLLECTORS

AFTER THE BA

NDITS RETREAT

In the year Kuimao the bandits from Xiyuan entered Daozhou, set fire, raided, killed, and looted. The whole district was almost ruined. The next year the bandits came again and, attacking the neighbouring prefecture, Yong, passed this one by. It was not because we were strong enough to defend ourselves, but, probably, because they pitied us. And how now can these commissioners bear to impose extra taxes? I have written this poem for the collectors’ information.

I still remember those days of peace —

Twenty years among mountains and forests,

The pure stream running past my yard,

The caves and valleys at my door.

Taxes were light and regular then,

And I could sleep soundly and late in the morning-

Till suddenly came a sorry change.

…For years now I have been serving in the army.

When I began here as an official,

The mountain bandits were rising again;

But the town was so small it was spared by the thieves,

And the people so poor and so pitiable

That all other districts were looted

And this one this time let alone.

…Do you imperial commissioners

Mean to be less kind than bandits?

The people you force to pay the poll

Are like creatures frying over a fire.

And how can you sacrifice human lives,

Just to be known as able collectors? —

…Oh, let me fling down my official seal,

Let me be a lone fisherman in a small boat

And support my family on fish and wheat

And content my old age with rivers and lakes!


Wei Yingwu

ENTERTAINING LITERARY MEN IN MY

OFFICIAL RESIDENCE ON A RAINY DAY

 

Outside are insignia, shown in state;

But here are sweet incense-clouds, quietly ours.

Wind and rain, coming in from sea,

Have cooled this pavilion above the lake

And driven the feverish heat away

From where my eminent guests are gathered.

…Ashamed though I am of my high position

While people lead unhappy lives,

Let us reasonably banish care

And just be friends, enjoying nature.

Though we have to go without fish and meat,

There are fruits and vegetables aplenty.

…We bow, we take our cups of wine,

We give our attention to beautiful poems.

When the mind is exalted, the body is lightened

And feels as if it could float in the wind

…Suzhou is famed as a centre of letters;

And all you writers, coming here,

Prove that the name of a great land

Is made by better things than wealth.

And I choose to put away from me every worldly matter

Qiwu Qian

A BOAT IN SPRING ON RUOYA LAKE

Thoughtful elation has no end:

Onward I bear it to whatever come.

And my boat and I, before the evening breeze

Passing flowers, entering the lake,

Turn at nightfall toward the western valley,

Where I watch the south star over the mountain

And a mist that rises, hovering soft,

And the low moon slanting through the trees;

And I choose to put away from me every worldly matter

And only to be an old man with a fishing-pole.


Chang Jian

AT WANG CHANGLIN’ S RETREAT

 

Here, beside a clear deep lake,

You live accompanied by clouds;

Or soft through the pine the moon arrives

To be your own pure-hearted friend.

You rest under thatch in the shadow of your flowers,

Your dewy herbs flourish in their bed of moss.

Let me leave the world. Let me

alight, like you,

On your western mountain with phoenixes and cranes.


Cen Can

ASCENDING THE PAGODA AT THE TEMPLE OF KIND

FAVOUR WITH GAO SHI AND XUE JU

 

The pagoda, rising abruptly from earth,

Reaches to the very Palace of Heaven….

Climbing, we seem to have left the world behind us,

With the steps we look down on hung from space.

It overtops a holy land

And can only have been built by toil of the spirit.

Its four sides darken the bright sun,

Its seven stories cut the grey clouds;

Birds fly down beyond our sight,

And the rapid wind below our hearing;

Mountain-ranges, toward the east,

Appear to be curving and flowing like rivers;

Far green locust-trees line broad roads

Toward clustered palaces and mansions;

Colours of autumn, out of the west,

Enter advancing through the city;

And northward there lie, in five graveyards,

Calm forever under dewy green grass,

Those who know life’s final meaning

Which all humankind must learn.

…Henceforth I put my official hat aside.

To find the Eternal Way is the only happiness.