What can my poor

Han Yu

A POEM ON THE STONE DRUMS

Chang handed me this tracing, from the stone drums,

Beseeching me to write a poem on the stone drums.

Du Fu has gone. Li Bai is dead.

What can my poor talent do for the stone drums?

…When the Zhou power waned and China was bubbling,

Emperor Xuan, up in wrath, waved his holy spear:

And opened his Great Audience, receiving all the tributes

Of kings and lords who came to him with a tune of clanging weapons.

They held a hunt in Qiyang and proved their marksmanship:

Fallen birds and animals were strewn three thousand miles.

And the exploit was recorded, to inform new generations….

Cut out of jutting cliffs, these drums made of stone-

On which poets and artisans, all of the first order,

Had indited and chiselled-were set in the deep mountains

To be washed by rain, baked by sun, burned by wildfire,

Eyed by evil spirits; and protected by the gods.

…Where can he have found the tracing on this paper? —

True to the original, not altered by a hair,

The meaning deep, the phrases cryptic, difficult to read.

And the style of the characters neither square nor tadpole.

Time has not yet vanquished the beauty of these letters —

Looking like sharp daggers that pierce live crocodiles,

Like phoenix-mates dancing, like angels hovering down,

Like trees of jade and coral with interlocking branches,

Like golden cord and iron chain tied together tight,

Like incense-tripods flung in the sea, like dragons mounting heaven.

Historians, gathering ancient poems, forgot to gather these,

To make the two Books of Musical Song more colourful and striking;

Confucius journeyed in the west, but not to the Qin Kingdom,

He chose our planet and our stars but missed the sun and moon

I who am fond of antiquity, was born too late

And, thinking of these wonderful things, cannot hold back my tears….

I remember, when I was awarded my highest degree,

During the first year of Yuanho,

How a friend of mine, then at the western camp,

Offered to assist me in removing these old relics.

I bathed and changed, then made my plea to the college president

And urged on him the rareness of these most precious things.

They could be wrapped in rugs, be packed and sent in boxes

And carried on only a few camels: ten stone drums

To grace the Imperial Temple like the Incense-Pot of Gao —

Or their lustre and their value would increase a hundredfold,

If the monarch would present them to the university,

Where students could study them and doubtless decipher them,

And multitudes, attracted to the capital of culture

Prom all corners of the Empire, would be quick to gather.

We could scour the moss, pick out the dirt, restore the original surface,

And lodge them in a fitting and secure place for ever,

Covered by a massive building with wide eaves

Where nothing more might happen to them as it had before.

…But government officials grow fixed in their ways

And never will initiate beyond old precedent;

So herd- boys strike the drums for fire, cows polish horns on them,

With no one to handle them reverentially.

Still ageing and decaying, soon they may be effaced.

Six years I have sighed for them, chanting toward the west….

The familiar script of Wang Xizhi, beautiful though it was,

Could be had, several pages, just for a few white geese,

But now, eight dynasties after the Zhou, and all the wars over,

Why should there be nobody caring for these drums?

The Empire is at peace, the government free.

Poets again are honoured and Confucians and Mencians….

Oh, how may this petition be carried to the throne?

It needs indeed an eloquent flow, like a cataract-

But, alas, my voice has broken, in my song of the stone drums,

To a sound of supplication choked with its own tears.

The five Holy Mountains have the rank of the Three Dukes

Han Yu

STOPPING AT A TEMPLE ON HENG MOUNTAIN I

INSCRIBE THIS POEM IN THE GATE-TOWER

The five Holy Mountains have the rank of the Three Dukes.

The other four make a ring, with the Song Mountain midmost.

To this one, in the fire-ruled south, where evil signs are rife,

Heaven gave divine power, ordaining it a peer.

All the clouds and hazes are hidden in its girdle;

And its forehead is beholden only by a few.

…I came here in autumn, during the rainy season,

When the sky was overcast and the clear wind gone.

I quieted my mind and prayed, hoping for an answer;

For assuredly righteous thinking reaches to high heaven.

And soon all the mountain-peaks were showing me their faces;

I looked up at a pinnacle that held the clean blue sky:

The wide Purple-Canopy joined the Celestial Column;

The Stone Granary leapt, while the Fire God stood still.

Moved by this token, I dismounted to offer thanks.

A long path of pine and cypress led to the temple.

Its white walls and purple pillars shone, and the vivid colour

Of gods and devils filled the place with patterns of red and blue.

I climbed the steps and, bending down to sacrifice, besought

That my pure heart might be welcome, in spite of my humble offering.

The old priest professed to know the judgment of the God:

He was polite and reverent, making many bows.

He handed me divinity-cups, he showed me how to use them

And told me that my fortune was the very best of al

Though exiled to a barbarous land, mine is a happy life.

Plain food and plain clothes are all I ever wanted.

To be prince, duke, premier, general, was never my desire;

And if the God would bless me, what better could he grant than this ? —

At night I lie down to sleep in the top of a high tower;

While moon and stars glimmer through the darkness of the clouds….

Apes call, a bell sounds. And ready for dawn

I see arise, far in the east the cold bright sun.

The fine clouds have opened and the River of Stars is gone

Han Yu

ON THE FESTIVAL OF THE MOON

TO SUB-OFFICIAL ZHANG

The fine clouds have opened and the River of Stars is gone,

A clear wind blows across the sky, and the moon widens its wave,

The sand is smooth, the water still, no sound and no shadow,

As I offer you a cup of wine, asking you to sing.

But so sad is this song of yours and so bitter your voice

That before I finish listening my tears have become a rain:

“Where Lake Dongting is joined to the sky by the lofty Nine-Doubt Mountain,

Dragons, crocodiles, rise and sink, apes, flying foxes, whimper….

At a ten to one risk of death, I have reached my official post,

Where lonely I live and hushed, as though I were in hiding.

I leave my bed, afraid of snakes; I eat, fearing poisons;

The air of the lake is putrid, breathing its evil odours….

Yesterday, by the district office, the great drum was announcing

The crowning of an emperor, a change in the realm.

The edict granting pardons runs three hundred miles a day,

All those who were to die have had their sentences commuted,

The unseated are promoted and exiles are recalled,

Corruptions are abolished, clean officers appointed.

My superior sent my name in but the governor would not listen

And has only transferred me to this barbaric place.

My rank is very low and useless to refer to;

They might punish me with lashes in the dust of the street.

Most of myfellow exiles are now returning home —

A journey which, to me, is a heaven beyond climbing.”

…Stop your song, I beg you, and listen to mine,

A song that is utterly different from yours:

“Tonight is the loveliest moon of the year.

All else is with fate, not ours to control;

But, refusing this wine, may we choose more tomorrow?”

When the top of Zun is green and the summer tide is rising.

 

Yuan Jie

A DRINKING SONG AT STONE-FISH LAKE

I have used grain from the public fields, for distilling wine. After my office hours I have the wine loaded on a boat and then I seat my friends on the bank of the lake. The little wine-boats come to each of us and supply us with wine. We seem to be drinking on Pa Islet in Lake Dongting. And I write this poem.

Stone-Fish Lake is like Lake Dongting —

…With the mountain for a table, and the lake a fount of wine,

The tipplers all are settled along the sandy shore.

Though a stiff wind for days has roughened the water,

Wine-boats constantly arrive….

I have a long-necked gourd and, happy on Ba Island,

I am pouring a drink in every direction doing away with care.


Han Yu

MOUNTAIN-STONES

 

Rough were the mountain-stones, and the path very narrow;

And when I reached the temple, bats were in the dusk.

I climbed to the hall, sat on the steps, and drank the rain- washed air

Among the round gardenia-pods and huge bananaleaves.

On the old wall, said the priest, were Buddhas finely painted,

And he brought a light and showed me, and I called them wonderful

He spread the bed, dusted the mats, and made my supper ready,

And, though the food was coarse, it satisfied my hunger.

At midnight, while I lay there not hearing even an insect,

The mountain moon with her pure light entered my door….

At dawn I left the mountain and, alone, lost my way:

In and out, up and down, while a heavy mist

Made brook and mountaingreen and purple, brightening everything.

I am passing sometimes pines and oaks, which ten men could not girdle,

I am treading pebbles barefoot in swift-running water —

Its ripples purify my ear, while a soft wind blows my garments….

These are the things which, in themselves, make life happy.

Why should we be hemmed about and hampered with people?

O chosen pupils, far behind me in my own country,

What if I spent my old age here and never went back home?

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.