Poems of the T’ang Dynasty, Part 6
AFTER MISSING THE RECLUSE
ON THE WESTERN MOUNTAIN
To your hermitage here on the top of the mountain
I have climbed, without stopping, these ten miles.
I have knocked at your door, and no one answered;
I have peeped into your room, at your seat beside the table.
Perhaps you are out riding in your canopied chair,
Or fishing, more likely, in some autumn pool.
Sorry though I am to be missing you,
You have become my meditation —
The beauty of your grasses, fresh with rain,
And close beside your window the music of your pines.
I take into my being all that I see and hear,
Soothing my senses, quieting my heart;
And though there be neither host nor guest,
Have I not reasoned a visit complete?
…After enough, I have gone down the mountain.
Why should I wait for you any longer?
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.
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.
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.
TO THE TAX-COLLECTORS
AFTER THE BANDITS 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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 —
When the top of Zun is green and the summer tide is rising.
…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.
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 mountain green 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?
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 my fellow 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?”
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 all.
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.
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.