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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Du Fu octaves

Octaves by Du Fu 杜甫 (712–770)

Translated by TIEN TRAN
Updated 9/10/17
Warwick, RI

This selection follows Qiu Zhao’ao’s chronological sequence, as reproduced by Stephen Owen in his new complete bilingual edition of Du Fu, published by De Gruyter. Each poem is followed by a cross reference to Qiu/Owen, consisting of a book and poem number, then a year of composition in brackets. It should be kept in mind that dates for Du Fu are derived from the poems themselves and can be convenient or highly conjectural. Owen’s edition, as of right now fully accessible online (link), is a tremendous standard text for English-speaking students of Du Fu; anyone who wishes to investigate the body of works should look for these supremely authoritative, meticulously accurate scholarly translations

In addition, I’m indebted to William Hung, whose seminal biography, containing nearly 400 poems in wonderful prose translations, remains a marvelous introduction to the poet in English; and to David McCraw, whose passionate discourse on the late octaves is inspiring. McCraw’s methods, although idiosyncratic, restore to Du Fu some of the grandeur that is too often grievously lost in translation; I’m conscious of having borrowed from him specifically in a number of poems, as indicated in the notes, and more generally. A short bibliography at the end identifies these and other sources that have guided me in this project. The notes combine their comments and my own enthusiasm for certain moments.

Tang poetry is built on such strong and intricate conventions – as it has often been said – that it’s indeed difficult to convey in English the extraordinary beauty of these maximally chiseled, yet superbly graceful lines of verse. The best that a translator can do is to follow the original, and to practice as much as possible the verbal economy that Tang poetry perfected and Du Fu exploited to the fullest. These fragile ideals often run counter to the practicalities of translation, however. For this and other reasons, including undoubtedly many errors, I do beg the reader’s patience. I don’t think I need to apologize to the famously good-natured poet, however, who I’m sure would suffer my translations in stride, with much understanding and wry, but compassionate humor!

Table of Contents

  1. Visiting Fengxian Temple at Longmen
    遊龍門奉先寺

  2. Gazing at the Marchmount
    望岳

  3. On a Watch Tower in Yanzhou
    登兗州城樓

  4. Inscribed on Hermit Zhang’s Dwelling – 2 Poems
    題張氏隱居二首

  5. With Several Noble Gentlemen Taking Singing Girls to Enjoy the Cool at Yard Eight Canal: On the Verge of Evening It Rained – 2 Poems
    陪諸貴公子丈八溝攜妓納涼晚際遇雨

  6. Lamenting Fall Rains – 3 Poems
    秋雨歎三首

  7. Moonlight Night
    月夜

  8. Mourning Chentao
    悲陳陶

  9. Mourning Qingban
    悲青板

  10. Facing Snow (I)
    對雪(戰哭多新鬼)

  11. Spring View
    春望

  12. Watching the Moon on the 105th Night
    一百五日夜對月

  13. Spring Night in the Left Office
    春宿左省

  14. Meandering River – 2 Poems
    曲江二首

  15. Leaving Chang’an
    出長安

  16. Early Autumn, Miserable Heat, Papers Piling Up
    早秋苦熱, 堆案相仍

  17. Standing Alone
    獨立

  18. Miscellaneous Poems of Qinzhou – Nos. 2, 4, 7, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 & 19 of 20 Poems
    秦州雜詩(其二、四、七、十、十二、十三、十四、十六、十七、十九)

  19. Remembering My Brothers on a Moonlit Night
    月夜憶舍弟

  20. Thinking of Li Bai at Sky’s End
    天末懷李白

  21. Overnight in Abbot Zan’s Chamber
    宿贊公房

  22. Rain Clears
    雨晴

  23. Heaven’s River
    天河

  24. New Moon
    初月

  25. Firefly
    螢火

  26. Taking Down a Trellis
    除架

  27. Gazing in the Wilds (I)
    野望(清秋望不极)

  28. Empty Purse
    空囊

  29. Seeing a Friend off on a Long Journey
    送遠

  30. Siting a House
    蔔居

  31. The Premier of Shu
    蜀相

  32. Plum Rains
    梅雨

  33. A Guest Comes
    賓至

  34. Southern Neighbor
    南鄰

  35. Going Outside the City
    出郭

  36. A Guest Comes (Celebrating Vice-Prefect Cui’s Visit)
    客至(喜崔明府相過)

  37. Spring Night, Joy in Rain
    春夜喜雨

  38. Sunset
    落日

  39. Alas
    可惜

  40. On the River Seeing the Waters Rise Like a Sea – A Brief Account
    江上值水如海勢聊短述

  41. Riverside Porch – Easing My Feelings
    水檻遣心二首

  42. Late Clearing (I)
    晚晴(村晚驚風度)

  43. Boating
    進艇

  44. I Haven’t Seen
    不見

  45. Farewell Poem for He Yong
    贈別何邕

  46. Gazing in the Wilds (II)
    野望(西山白雪三城戍)

  47. Hiding Tracks (3 Poems)
    屏跡三首

  48. A Rustic Sends Crimson Cherries
    野人送朱櫻

  49. At Fengji Station, Again Bidding General Yan Goodbye, in Four Rhymes
    奉濟驛重送嚴公四韻

  50. Night Away from Home
    客夜

  51. Gazing in the Wilds (III)
    野望(金華山北涪水西)

  52. Upon Hearing That Royal Troops Have Taken Henan and Hebei
    聞官軍收河南河北

  53. Sending off Lu Six, Attendant Going to Court
    送路六侍禦入朝

  54. At a Familiar Inn
    客舊館

  55. Mountain Journey from Langzhou Taking My Wife and Children Back to Shu – 3 Poems
    自閬州領妻子卻赴蜀山行三首

  56. Bidding Goodbye to Grand Marshal Fang’s Grave
    別房太尉墓

  57. Overnight at Headquarters
    宿府

  58. Weary Night
    倦夜

  59. Celebrating Rain
    喜雨

  60. Yu’s Temple
    禹廟

  61. Thoughts on a Night Abroad
    旅夜書懷

  62. Farewell to the Departing Mr. Chang
    別常征君

  63. From the Highest Tower of Baidi Citadel
    白帝城最高樓

  64. Late Clearing (II)
    晚晴(返照斜初徹)

  65. Reflected Rays (I)
    返照(楚王宮北正黃昏)

  66. Clear Skies (2 Poems)
    晴二首

  67. White Emperor
    白帝

  68. Midnight
    中宵

  69. Sleepless
    不寐

  70. Night (I)

  71. Thatch House
    草閣

  72. Overnight in the Riverside Tower
    宿江邊閣

  73. To My Fifth Brother Feng
    第五弟豐獨在江左......(其二)

  74. Autumn Moods (8 Poems)
    秋興八首

  75. Singing of Feelings on Historical Traces – Nos. 1, 2 & 3 of 5 Poems
    詠懷古跡五首(其一、二、三)

  76. Bridal Chamber
    洞房

  77. Musk Deer

  78. Paired Cliffs of Qutang Gorge
    瞿塘兩崖

  79. At Qutang, Meditating on Antiquity
    瞿唐懷古

  80. Tower Night
    閣夜

  81. River Plums
    江梅

  82. Late Spring
    暮春

  83. Dawn Rain
    晨雨

  84. Seeing Fireflies
    見螢火

  85. Fall’s Clarity
    秋清

  86. Autumn Wilds – 5 Poems
    秋野五首

  87. Reflected Rays (II)
    返照(返照開巫峽)

  88. Toward Evening
    向夕

  89. Night of the Sixteenth, Enjoying Moonlight
    十六夜玩月

  90. Moon on the Night of the Seventeenth
    十七夜對月

  91. Morning View
    曉望

  92. Twilight

  93. Night (II)

  94. Depending on Meng of the Granaries to Take a Letter and Seek Out My Old Estate at Tulou
    憑孟倉曹將書覓土婁舊莊

  95. Climbing High
    登高

  96. Deaf
    耳聾

  97. Night – 2 Poems
    夜二首

  98. Rain – 4 Poems
    雨四首

  99. By the Yangtze, Stars and Moon – 2 Poems
    江邊星月二首

  100. Moonlit Boat Opposite a Temple Near the Post-Station
    舟月對驛近寺

  101. Night Return
    夜歸

  102. Evening Return
    暮歸

  103. Mountain Inn
    移居公安山館

  104. Deep Winter
    冬深

  105. Leaving Gong’an at Dawn
    曉發公安

  106. Mooring Beneath Yueyang’s City Wall
    泊岳陽城下

  107. Climbing Yueyang Tower
    登岳陽樓

  108. Staying at Baisha Station, Five Miles into Hunan
    宿白沙驛, 初過湖南五裏

  109. Gazing in the wilds (IV)
    野望(納納乾坤大)

  110. Yangtze and Han
    江漢

  111. Corner of Earth
    地隅

  112. Facing Snow (II)
    對雪(北雪犯長沙)

  113. A Guest From
    客從

  114. Written in a Boat on Little Cold Food
    小寒食舟中作

  115. Crossing Lake Dongting
    過洞庭湖

  116. Bibliography

  117. Some quotes on Du Fu

遊龍門奉先寺

已從招提遊
更宿招提境

陰壑生虛籟
月林散清影

天闕象緯逼
雲臥衣裳冷

欲覺聞晨鐘
金人發深省

1.1 [c. 740]

Visiting Fengxian Temple at Longmen

I’ve gone to see the temple
Now stay in the temple’s precincts

Dark caves spawn empty whistles
Moonlit trees scatter cool rays

Sky Gate nears stars’ weave
Lying in a cloud chills my clothes

Waking, I hear the early bell
That I may rise today deeply awake

望岳

岱宗夫如何
齊魯青未了

造化鍾神秀
陰陽割昏曉

盪胸生層雲
決眥入歸鳥

會當凌絕頂
一覽眾山小

1.2 [c. 740]

Gazing at the Marchmount

What is it like then, Mount Tai
Over Qi and Lu, endlessly green

Creation gathered divine beauty
North and south dividing dusk and daybreak

Chest heaves at heaped clouds rising
Eye-sockets burst – enter birds returning

Someday I’ll climb to the highest peak
See in one glance all other mountains small

Notes

Qi and Lu – vassal Zhou states. Mount Tai, in the middle of this region in the East, was the most revered of ancient China’s sacred peaks, from earliest days an important ceremonial center associated with transformation and renewal.

This early octave has long been admired for its audacity and brilliance. Commentators note that “eye-sockets burst” has precedent in a line by Sima Xiangru 司馬相如 (2nd cent. BC), describing a bird shot down during a hunt, and may thus allude to Du Fu’s recent, quite unexpected failure in the exams of 735. Here it is the viewer’s eyes that burst, straining to see birds returning from outer atmosphere, perhaps as souls were said to return to Mount Tai after death.

登兗州城樓

東郡趨庭日
南樓縱目初

浮雲連海岱
平野入青徐

孤嶂秦碑在
荒城魯殿餘

從來多古意
臨眺獨躊躇

1.3 [c. 740]

On a Watch Tower in Yanzhou

East Province, day I visit my father
South Tower – for the first time I look out

Floating clouds join the sea and Mt. Tai
The level wilds reach Qing and Xu

On a solitary peak, Qin’s tablet stands
In a deserted city, Lu halls’ remains

I’ve always thought much of the past
Gazing out far, alone, I’m full of doubt

Notes

Qing and Xu – ancient provinces of China, as described in the Esteemed Documents 尚書 (geographically the same as Qi and Lu above). Qin was of course China’s first unified empire, and Lu, Confucius’ home state. Sima Qian of the Han wrote that, in its quest to consolidate power, Qin buried Confucianists and burned their books. Prince Gong of Lu was said to have accidentally revealed lost Confucian manuscripts, when he ordered the destruction of Confucius’ home in order to expand his own palaces.

The poet’s father was a minor official in Yanzhou at this time. Having failed the exams, Du Fu had no clear prospects and, despite his family’s stature and connections, may well have been full of doubt.

題張氏隱居二首其一

春山無伴獨相求
伐木丁丁山更幽

澗道餘寒歷冰雪
石門斜日到林丘

不貪夜識金銀氣
遠害朝看麋鹿游

乘興杳然迷出處
對君疑是泛虛舟

1.4 [744]

Inscribed on Hermit Zhang’s Dwelling

Spring hills, without a companion, alone I came searching
Felling a tree, an ax’s echoes made the hills more remote

The creek trail, in remnant cold, led by frozen snow
From Stone Gate, late sunlight reached the wooded knoll

Without ambition, you know nightly gold, silver auras
Far from harm, in the morning you see deer browsing

In high mood, absorbed, I forget service and retreat
Facing you, I think I’m still floating on an empty boat

其二

之子時相見
邀人晚興留

霽潭鱣發發
春草鹿呦呦

杜酒偏勞勸
張梨不外求

前村山路險
歸醉每無愁

No. 2

It’s you this moment I see
Inviting me by evening’s mood to stay

In the clear stream, carps splash
Through spring vegetation, deer bleat

Du wine you still press
Zhang pears aren’t beyond request

Outside a village, on hilly roads dangerous
Returning drunk, each time I’m without worries

Notes

Du wine – very good wine, in reference to Du Kang, the legendary inventor of wine; Zhang pears – very sweet pears, as cataloged in the “Rhapsody on Idle Living” by Pan Yue 潘岳 (3rd cent.). The allusions play on the poet’s and the host’s names, obviously!

陪諸貴公子丈八溝攜妓納涼晚際遇雨

其一

落日放船好
輕風生浪遲

竹深留客處
荷淨納涼時

公子調冰水
佳人雪藕絲

片雲頭上黑
應是雨催詩

3.8 [754]

With Several Noble Gentlemen Taking Singing Girls to Enjoy the Cool at Yard Eight Canal: On the Verge of Evening It Rained

No. 1

Late in the day it’s pleasant to set sail
While a light breeze slowly spawns waves

Dense bamboo – where guests tarry
Pure lotuses – when coolness is enjoyed

Young gentlemen mix icy drinks
Beauties wash strands of lotus roots

A patch of clouds darkens overhead
I think it’s rain, to hasten on our verse

其二

雨來沾席上
風急打船頭

越女紅裙濕
燕姬翠黛愁

纜侵堤柳繫
幔卷浪花浮

歸路翻蕭颯
陂塘五月秋

No. 2

Rain comes, soaking seat-mats
Wind gusts batter the prows

Yue girls’ red skirts are drenched
Yan wenches’ green brows, crossed

Moorings cast – tying shore willows
Curtains raised – floating foam on waves

Our way back turns dreary and bleak
On the lake, it’s autumn in June

Notes

This pair of lighthearted poems document the aristocratic scene in Chang’an, when Du Fu was still a well-heeled young man. The ending is ominous and haunting, however, in retrospect. I have lifted Stephen Owen’s translation of the title. “On the verge of evening” is typical of the service that he has done for English-speaking students of Du Fu.

秋雨歎三首

其一

雨中百草秋爛死
階下決明顏色鮮

著葉滿枝翠羽蓋
開花無數黃金錢

涼風蕭蕭吹汝急
恐汝後時難獨立

堂上書生空白頭
臨風三嗅馨香泣

3.29 [754]

Lamenting Fall Rains

No. 1

In rain, a hundred autumn plants rot and die
Below the steps, the sicklepods wear a fresh look

Leaves sprout along the stalks – emerald canopy
Countless flowers bloom – shiny gold coins

But cold, miserable wind buffets you
That I fear, in later days, you’ll find it hard to stand

A scholar vainly grows old in his apartment
Facing the wind, three times he sniffs fragrance and weeps

Notes

Three times he sniffs… – This alludes to the strange, likely garbled ending to Book 10 of the Analects, which describes Confucius’ behavior in various ordinary settings. Perhaps an oblique comment on the dissolution of meaning that the rains have caused?

其二

闌風伏雨秋紛紛
四海八荒同一雲

去馬來牛不復辨
濁涇清渭何當分

禾頭生耳黍穗黑
農夫田父無消息

城中斗米換衾綢
相許寧論兩相直

No. 2

Harmful winds, leveling rains, unleash during the fall
Four seas and eight regions gathered in one cloud

A horse going and an ox coming can’t be told apart
How to distinguish the muddy Jing from the clear Wei

Grain heads grow fungus, millet clusters turn black
From farmers and field hands, no news

In the city, a peck of rice trades for silk bedding
Both sides agree – never mind relative worths

Notes

In the fall of 754, continuous rainfall caused failed harvests and widespread hardship, exacerbating the conditions that led to An Lushan’s rebellion. A peck of rice was about a two-day supply of rice for a family, according to William Hung.

其三

長安布衣誰比數
返巢衡門守環堵

老夫不出長蓬蒿
稚子無懮走風雨

雨聲颼颼催早寒
胡雁翅濕高飛難

秋來未曾見白日
泥污後土何時干

No. 3

Who else is like the commoner in Chang’an
I go home, shut the door and guard my small room

An old man doesn’t go out, the weeds grow tall
Children, without a care, scamper in the wind and rain

The sound of rain, whistling by, hastens on early cold
Hu geese, wings soaked, struggle to fly high

Since fall came, I haven’t seen the noonday sun
Muddy ground, worshiped earth, when shall it be dry

月夜

今夜鄜州月
閨中只獨看

遙憐小兒女
未解憶長安

香霧雲鬟濕
清輝玉臂寒

何時倚虛幌
雙照淚痕乾

4.18 [756]

Moonlight Night

Tonight, Fuzhou moon
In her chamber, she watches it alone

Faraway, I pity our little ones
They don’t know how she misses Chang’an

Scented mist dampens cloud-like hair
In clear light, jade-white arms are cold

When shall we lie by empty curtains
Side-by-side shown, tear tracks dried

悲陳陶

孟冬十郡良家子
血作陳陶澤中水

野曠天清無戰聲
四萬義軍同日死

群胡歸來血洗箭
仍唱胡歌飲都市

都人回面向北啼
日夜更望官軍至

4.20 [756]

Mourning Chentao

Start of winter – good sons of ten provinces
Their blood became the water of Chentao’s marshes

Fields vast, skies clear – no sounds of battle
Forty thousand loyal troops in one day perished

Barbarian gangs return, blood bathing arrows
They sing barbaric songs, drinking in the marketplace

The people look to their Emperor in the North
Day and night waiting for the royal army to arrive

Notes

In December 755, An Lushan launched his rebellion. From this point on, war and war’s displacements became the condition and continual theme of Du Fu’s poetry. It bears repeating that Du Fu’s mature poems post-date the Rebellion and reflect an empire and country in upheaval. After taking his family to safety, the poet attempted to reach Emperor Suzong’s exile court in Lingwu, but was caught and detained by the rebels in Chang’an. The following fall, the Tang moved to retake Chang’an, but suffered a crushing defeat at Chentao.

悲青板

我軍青阪在東門
天寒飲馬太白窟

黃頭奚儿日向西
數騎彎弓敢馳突

山雪河冰野蕭瑟
青是烽煙白人骨

焉得附書與我軍
忍待明年莫倉卒

4.21 [756]

Mourning Qingban

Our troops in Qingban camped by the east gate
In winter watered horses at Taibai’s pits

Blond-heads and Xi lads daily moved west
A mounted few raised bows and dared to attack

Hills snowing, rivers frozen, the wilds desolate
Black is beacons’ smoke, white are human bones

How can I send a message to our troops
Patiently wait out the year, don’t be rash

Notes

After Chentao, Tang forces were again defeated at Qingban. Blond-heads (part of the Khitan) and the Xi were non-Chinese peoples drawn into An Lushan’s cause. The poet downplays their threat and urges the army to wait for reinforcement, before launching further campaigns.

對雪

戰哭多新鬼
愁吟獨老翁

亂雲低薄暮
急雪舞回風

瓢棄尊無綠
爐存火似紅

數州消息斷
愁坐正書空

4.23 [756]

Facing Snow (I)

Weeping war are many new ghosts
Chanting his sorrow, a single old man

Rebellious clouds lower in gray evening
Rushing snow dances in whirling wind

Ladle cast aside, my cup shows no green
In the stove remaining, fire seems red

Several provinces have gone silent
Dismally I sit, writing words in air

Notes

Shows no green – no wine; green indicates lees in the wine or ale.

Fire seems red – Stephen Owen cites Chen Yixin: a fire, imagined by the poet, seems to glow red.

春望

國破山河在
城春草木深

感時花濺淚
恨別鳥驚心

烽火連三月
家書抵萬金

白頭搔更短
渾欲不勝簪

4.25 [757]

Spring View

The country broken – hills and rivers remain
The city in spring – grasses and trees grow thick

Feeling for the present, flowers shed tears
Hating separation, a bird’s cry startles the heart

Beacon fires span three months
A letter from home is worth countless gold coins

My gray hair from scratching has grown thin
And soon might not hold a hatpin

一百五日夜對月

無家對寒食
有淚如金波

斫卻月中桂
清光應更多

仳離放紅蕊
想像嚬青蛾

牛女漫愁思
秋期猶渡河

4.29 [757]

Watching the Moon on the 105th Night

Without family I face Cold Food
Through tears like silvery waves

If you chopped down the cassia in the moon
Its clear light I think would increase

Alone, she doesn’t wear red flowers
I picture her brows, in sadness drawn

Cowherd and Weaver Girl, don’t mourn
Come autumn, you’ll cross the river again

Notes

Cold Food was a three-day festival beginning on the 105th day after the winter solstice (April 5th by the Gregorian calendar), during which fire was prohibited. This love poem to the poet’s wife touchingly draws from common folklore. Among many other things, the moon was said to bear a giant cassia, which Wu Gang perpetually chops at without success, since the tree heals itself. In myth, Cowherd and Weaver Girl (the stars Altair and Vega) are allowed to cross Heaven’s River (the Milky Way) once a year, on the 7th night of the 7th lunar month, to be together.

春宿左省

花隱掖垣暮
啾啾棲鳥過

星臨萬戶動
月傍九霄多

不寢聽金鑰
因風想玉珂

明朝有封事
數問夜如何

6.3 [758]

Spring Night in the Left Office

Flowers hide along the wall at dusk
Birds twitter, flying over to roost

Stars overlook countless households twinkling
The moon nears highest heaven radiant

Not sleeping, I hear golden keys
On the wind imagine jade harness chimes

With papers to prepare for dawn court
Several times I’ve asked how late it is

Notes

With massive Uighur support, Chang’an was recaptured by the Tang in winter 757. Du Fu, who had escaped to join Suzong’s court in exile, where he was given the largely symbolic post of Reminder (an official responsible for catching lapses in style or protocol), returned in the emperor’s entourage. This marked the height of the poet’s disappointing official career.

曲江二首

其一

一片花飛減卻春
風飄萬點正愁人

且看欲盡花經眼
莫厭傷多酒入唇

江上小堂巢翡翠
苑邊高冢臥麒麟

細推物理鬚行樂
何用浮名絆此身

6.9 [758]

Meandering River

No. 1

Every flying flower petal makes spring less
Wind-scattered, a myriad points, to make men sad

Then watch, almost gone, flowers passing the eye
Not mourning life’s injuries, wine at the lips

On the river, a small house, where kingfishers nest
Outside the park, on a high mound, a qilin sleeps

Consider well the nature of things – we must be merry
What’s the use of uncertain fame – to bind one up

Notes

Qilin – a dragon horse, similar to the unicorn; i.e. statue of a qilin guarding, or in this case dozing on, an important person’s tomb.

其二

朝回日日典春衣
每日江頭盡醉歸

酒債尋常行處有
人生七十古來稀

穿花蛺蝶深深
點水蜻蜓款款

傳語風光共流轉
暫時相賞莫相違

No. 2

Back from court, day after day, I pawn my spring coat
From downriver, everyday, return reeling drunk

Wine debts are nothing special – there wherever I go
A lifespan of seventy years – few have lived it out

Weaving through flowers, butterflies distantly appear
Dipping into water, dragonflies slowly drift

Pass it on – fortune and glory all flow and change
Enjoy the moment together, together let’s not waste it

Notes

An official of Du Fu’s position at this time normally would not have been pressed for money. Pawning his spring coat is, one presumes, an exaggeration – but post-Rebellion, the Tang were broke and officials could no longer count on their regular monthly salaries. Du Fu sounds a lot like Li Bai and comes close to Confucian heresy in these poems.

出長安

此道昔歸順
西郊胡正繁

至今猶破膽
應有未招魂

近侍歸京邑
移官豈至尊

無才日衰老
駐馬望千門

6.28 [758]

Leaving Chang’an

By this road formerly I returned to service
When the western suburbs were full of foreign soldiers

To this day my courage remains shattered
A part of me I think is still gone

An attendant of the Emperor I came back
This transfer order cannot be His Majesty’s

Without talent, daily more old and weak
I stop my horse to gaze at the thousand gates

Notes

Zhide, Qianyuan – Emperor Suzong’s first and second “eras” or administrative periods, respectively. It had scarcely been a year since Du Fu returned to Chang’an; “formerly” points up the eventfulness of the times, as well the poet’s grief at his own situation. “Thousand gates” indicates the palace precincts, where he had served for such a short time.

The expository title reads in full: “Second Year of Zhide, I Left the Capital by the Gate of Golden Light, Found My Way to Fengxiang. First Year of Qianyuan, from Being Reminder of the Left to an Assistant Post in Huazhou I Am Transferred; Parting with Friends and Relations, Leaving by This Same Gate, Brings Back Sad Memories of the Past.” 至德二載,甫自京金光門出,問道歸鳳翔。乾元初,從左拾遺移華州掾 ,與親故別 ,因出此門有悲往事。

早秋苦熱, 堆案相仍

七月六日苦炎熱
對食暫餐還不能

每愁夜中自足蝎
況乃秋後轉多蠅

束帶發狂欲大叫
簿書何急來相仍

南望青松架短壑
安得赤腳蹋層冰

6.33 [758]

Early Autumn, Miserable Heat, Papers Piling Up

Seventh month, sixth day, in miserable heat
Facing food, a makeshift meal, I can’t eat

Nightly I worry about crawling scorpions
But worse, since fall came, the flies have burgeoned

Belt tight, going crazy, I want to scream
How can these papers still be pouring in

To the south, green pines frame a short ravine
If only I could, barefoot, tread on solid ice

Notes

After leaving Chang’an, Du Fu accepted the post of Commisioner of Education in Huazhou. For one such as Du Fu, this was busy, ignominious work, and he left his post less than a year later.

獨立

空外一鷙鳥
河間雙白鷗

飄搖搏擊便
容易往來游

草露亦多濕
蛛絲仍未收

天機近人事
獨立萬端憂

6.41 [758]

Standing Alone

High in the sky, a bird of prey
On the river, paired white gulls

Hovering, it strikes when convenient
Leisurely, they drift to and fro

Grasses are drenched in dew
A spider’s web still hasn’t caught

Heaven’s design nears man’s affairs
I stand alone, full of gloomy thoughts

秦州雜詩

其二

秦州城北寺
傳是隗囂宮

苔蘚山門古
丹青野殿空

月明垂葉露
雲逐渡溪風

清渭無情極
愁時獨向東

7.31 [759]

Miscellaneous Poems of Qinzhou

No. 2

North of Qinzhou a temple
Said to be Wei Xiao’s palace

Moss and lichen, old mountain gate
Vermilion and blue, empty hall in the wilds

Moonlight shines on leaves drooping with dew
Clouds race the wind over the creek

But the clear Wei is truly heartless
While I’m sad, alone it’s heading east

Notes

Wei Xiao was a warlord who ruled the region, nowadays eastern Gansu, until defeated by the resurgent Han in 33 AD.

其四

鼓角緣邊郡
川原欲夜時

秋聽殷地發
風散入雲悲

抱葉寒蟬靜
歸山獨鳥遲

萬方同一概
吾道竟何之

No. 4

Drums and bugles surround the frontier district
Rivers and plains will soon be night

Autumn sounds issue from the vast land
Gusting winds join clouds in lament

Leaf-wrapped, cicadas cold fall silent
Returning to mountains, a bird alone tarries

Countless regions share the same fate
My way will lead me where from here

其七

莽莽萬重山
孤城山谷間

無風雲出塞
不夜月臨關

屬國歸何晚
樓蘭斬未還

煙塵獨長望
衰颯正摧顏

No. 7

Overgrown, countless rugged peaks
Lonely city, in the mountain valley

No wind, but clouds cross the border
Not yet night, though moon overlooks the pass

The envoy returns why so late
Beheading Loulan, one hasn’t come back

Smoke and dust often I gaze on
Failing strength sallows my looks

Notes

The envoy – Su Wu, sent by Emperor Wu of Han, was detained among the Xiongnu for nineteen years, before returning to the empire.

Beheading Loulan... – Fu Jiezi, sent by Emperor Zhao of Han, beheaded King Angui of Loulan in 77 BC. Du Fu’s journey in the Southwest figures as a journey back in time. In the wake of An Lushan’s rebellion, the western regions were once again unconquered, the Han’s empire-making undone or incomplete.

其十

雲氣接崑崙
涔涔塞雨繁

羌童看渭水
使節向河源

煙火軍中幕
牛羊嶺上村

所居秋草靜
正閉小蓬門

No. 10

Cloud vapor reaches Kunlun
Falling thick, border rain proliferates

A native boy watches Wei current
The envoy nears the river’s source

Smoky fires – encampment of the army
Oxen and goats – village on the ridge

Around the house autumn plants hush
As I close the small tumbleweed gate

Notes

The envoy – Zhang Qian of the Han, who was said to have found the Yellow River’s source.

其十二

山頭南郭寺
水號北流泉

老樹空庭得
清渠一邑傳

秋花危石底
晚景臥鐘邊

俯仰悲身世
溪風為颯然

No. 12

On the hilltop, South Fort Temple
By a stream called North Flowing Spring

Old trees profit in the empty courtyard
The clear channel flows down to a whole village

Autumn flowers deep among tall rocks
Evening shadows beside a fallen bell

Looking up and down, I mourn for my world
While inlet wind turns cold and sharp

其十三

傳道東柯谷
深藏數十家

對門藤蓋瓦
映竹水穿沙

瘦地翻宜粟
陽坡可種瓜

船人近相報
但恐失桃花

No. 13

It’s said that Eastern Bough Valley
Hides in its depths a few dozen families

Before their gates, vines cover roof tiles
Lighting bamboo, water cuts through sand

The poor soil in fact suits millet
On the south slope, it’s possible to grow squash

A boatman coming here tells me
Your only fear is not finding peach blossoms

Notes

Peach blossoms – i.e. the way to Peach Blossom Spring, a utopia of perfect peace and contentment, cut off from the tumultuous outside world, as described in a fable by Tao Chien. Following peach blossoms on the current, a fisherman stumbled onto Peach Blossom Spring by accident, but unfortunately could not find it again after leaving.

The boatman’s words are deliciously ambiguous. Tonggu turned out to be a disaster, and “Peach Blossom Spring is nowhere found,” the poet would write in a later poem.

其十四

萬古仇池穴
潛通小有天

神魚今不見
福地語真傳

近接西南境
長懷十九泉

何時一茅屋
送老白雲邊

No. 14

Countless ages old, Jiu Lake Grotto
Connects within to a lesser heaven

Though the magic fish isn’t seen
This is blessed ground, as truly said

Traveling Southwestern frontiers
Always I think of the Nineteen Springs

When shall a single thatch hut
Send me off to old age beside white clouds

其十六

東柯好崖谷
不與眾峰群

落日邀雙鳥
晴天卷片雲

野人矜險絕
水竹會平分

採藥吾將老
兒童未遣聞

No. 16

Eastern Bough’s beautiful rocky valley
Isn’t like the surrounding peaks

Sunsets lure pairs of birds
Clear skies roll up wisps of clouds

Rustics boast of its isolation
Bamboo and water in equal parts

Picking medicinal herbs, there I’ll grow old
Though I haven’t confided in the children

其十七

邊秋陰易久
不復辨晨光

檐雨亂淋幔
山雲低度墻

鸕鶿窺淺井
蚯蚓上深堂

車馬何蕭索
門前百草長

No. 17

Frontier autumn’s gloom deepens
No more distinct dawns’ brightness

Rain from the eaves splatters curtains
Mountain clouds lower over the walls

The cormorant stares into a shallow well
Earthworms crawl deep into the hall

Human traffic – how thin and sparse
Outside the gate, a hundred plants grow tall

其十九

鳳林戈未息
魚海路常難

候火雲峰峻
懸軍幕井乾

風連西極動
月過北庭寒

故老思飛將
何時議築壇

No. 19

War in Fenglin hasn’t ceased
The way to Yuhai, right now difficult

Signal fires blur towering peaks
Advance troops camp among dry wells

Endless wind rattles the western sky
The moon crosses North Court frigid

Old fellows remember the Flying General
When will we discuss building an altar

Notes

North Court – name of the military circuit comprising Qinzhou. The “Flying General” refers to Li Guang, a famous general of the Han.

Building an altar – to commission a general, according to Stephen Owen. Han Gaozu built an altar to commission his general Han Xin.

月夜憶舍弟

戍鼓斷人行
秋邊一雁聲

露從今夜白
月是故鄉明

有弟皆分散
無家問死生

寄書長不達
況乃未休兵

7.51 [759]

Remembering My Brothers on a Moonlit Night

War drums cut off human travel
Fall on the frontier – a goose’s lone cry

Starting tonight, dew will be white
The moon, bright as in our homeland

I have brothers, all scattered
No one to ask whether living or dead

Sent letters often don’t arrive
How much more, when war hasn’t ceased

天末懷李白

涼風起天末
君子意如何

鴻雁幾時到
江湖秋水多

文章憎命達
魑魅喜人過

應共冤魂語
投詩贈汨羅

7.52 [759]

Thinking of Li Bai at Sky’s End

Cool wind rises at sky’s end
How do you think, gentleman

When will the swans and geese arrive
Rivers and lakes have risen high in autumn

Literature deplores a successful life
Demons rejoice when humans err

Do have a word with that wronged ghost
Cast a poem in gift to the Miluo

Notes

The Miluo was where the poet Qu Yuan 屈原 (3rd cent. BC) drowned himself, after having been wrongfully banished. It was a custom to offer poems to the poet’s spirit in the river. Li Bai was at this time wandering in exile in the Southeast.

宿贊公房

杖錫何來此
秋風已颯然

雨荒深院菊
霜倒半池蓮

放逐寧違性
虛空不離禪

相逢成夜宿
隴月向人圓

7.53 [759]

Overnight in Abbot Zan’s Chamber

How came your tin cane to this place
Fall wind has already turned biting

Rain rots chrysanthemums in the deep court
Frost fells lotuses through half of the pond

Exile, how can it offend you
Nothingness you never cease meditating

We meet and pass the night together
Over the valley, the moon toward us is full

Notes

Tin cane – The khakkhara was originally a Buddhist monk’s begging implement, consisting of a staff topped with metal rings that rattle to alert sentient beings. It came to symbolize an abbot’s authority in China. A note appended to the title reads: “He was abbot of Dayun Monastery in the Capital, is banished and resting here.” 京中大雲寺主,謫此安置。 Like Du Fu, Abbot Zan was a member of Fang Guan’s clique and was sent from the capital after his downfall.

雨晴

天際秋雲薄
從西萬里風

今朝好晴景
久雨不妨農

塞柳行疏翠
山梨結小紅

胡笳樓上發
一雁入高空

7.60 [759]

Rain Clears

Sheer autumn clouds at sky’s end
West winds blowing countless miles

Bright lovely scene this morning
Farming unspoiled by long rains

Frontier willows stir threads of green
Mountain pears gather red dots

Hu flute on the tower sings out
One goose enters into clear skies

天河

當時任顯晦
秋至轉分明

縱被浮雲掩
猶能永夜清

含星動雙闕
半月落邊城

牛女年年
何曾風浪生

7.65 [759]

Heaven’s River

With the time, is revealed or dimmed
On the solstice, becomes distinctly bright

Though shadowed by floating clouds
Still it’s clear the whole night

Storing stars, drifting over twin towers
Carrying a half-moon down outside the city

Year after year, Cowherd and Weaver Girl cross
And never do winds and waves rise

Notes

Heaven’s River – the Milky Way, which was known by various names. For the myth of Cowherd and Weaver Girl, please see note to Watching the Moon on the 105th Night. This is one of Du Fu’s more famous yongwu 詠物 or poems of appreciative description.

初月

光細弦欲上
影斜輪未安

微升古塞外
已隱暮雲端

河漢不改色
關山空自寒

庭前有白露
暗滿菊花團

7.66 [759]

New Moon

Faintly bright, the crescent now rises
Its shadow slants, its rim not yet settled

A smidgen over the ancient pass
Already hidden by late clouds

The Milky Way hasn’t changed appearance
Among border mountains, the sky turns cold

Before the yard there’s white dew
Darkly covering chrysanthemums one and all

螢火

幸因腐草出
敢近太陽飛

未足臨書卷
時能點客衣

隨風隔幔小
帶雨傍林微

十月清霜重
飄零何處歸

7.70 [759]

Firefly

Luckily, from rotten grass you’ve risen
Unafraid to fly near the sun

Not bright enough to read a book
At times you can blotch exiles’ clothes

On the wind, outside the screen, small
Under rain, at the forest’s edge, a tiny dot

Come November, frost cold and thick
Scattered, where will you run

Notes

A satire of the powerful court eunuch Li Fuguo, according to William Hung. Li was responsible for the demotion and exile of many people the poet considered friends. Fireflies were commonly believed to be born from rotting vegetation. The satire also works brilliantly as a descriptive poem.

除架

束薪已零落
瓠葉轉蕭疏

幸結白花了
寧辭青蔓除

秋蟲聲不去
暮雀意何如

寒事今牢落
人生亦有初

8.1 [759]

Taking Down a Trellis

Tied sticks already wither and fall
Squash leaves turn dry and sparse

Lucky, that white flowers formed
Better to take the green vines down

Autumn insects – their sound hasn’t faded
Evening sparrows – what are their thoughts

Cold things now lie in waste
Human life, too, has such beginnings

野望

清秋望不极
迢遞起層陰

遠水兼天淨
孤城隱霧深

葉稀風更落
山迥日初沈

獨鶴歸何晚
昏鴉已滿林

8.6 [759]

Gazing in the Wilds (I)

Clear autumn, inexhaustible sight
Across distances, layered shadows rise

Faraway, the river meets a peaceful sky
Lone city hides under thick fog

Sparse leaves in the wind still fall
Beyond distant hills, the sun begins to set

A single crane returns – why so late
Evening’s crows have covered the forest

空囊

翠柏苦猶食
晨霞高可餐

世人共鹵莽
吾道屬艱難

不爨井晨凍
無衣床夜寒

囊空恐羞澀
留得一錢看

8.7 [759]

Empty Purse

Green cedar, bitter, is yet food
Dawn rays, high above, sustenance

People of the world are rude
Mine is a difficult road

No cooking – the well at dawn frozen
Without robes – bedding at night, cold

Purse empty, I fear the sting of shame
And keep a single coin, for looking in

送遠

帶甲滿天地
胡為君遠行

親朋盡一哭
鞍馬去孤城

草木歲月晚
關河霜雪清

別离已昨日
因見古人情

8.11 [759]

Seeing a Friend off on a Long Journey

While fighters overrun the world
Why must you journey far

Friends and family all weep
Your saddled horse leaves the lonely city

Grasses and trees – the year is late
Passes and rivers – snow and frost are pure

Parting is an old affair
By this we know how ancients felt

Notes

Snow and frost are pure – for lack of human travel.

蔔居

浣花流水水西頭
主人為蔔林塘幽

已知出郭少塵事
更有澄江銷客愁

無數蜻蜓齊上下
一雙鸂鶒對沈浮

東行萬裏堪乘興
須向山陰上小舟

9.14 [760]

Siting a House

By Wanhua’s flowing waters, at the waters’ west end
The owner sites his house, woods and pools remote

I knew that, outside the city, there’d be few worldly bothers
What more, the clear river dispels a wanderer’s sorrow

Numerous dragonflies together rise and fall
A pair of wild ducks facing each other dive and float

To journey east, countless miles, may yet be inspired
I must turn for shadowed mountains, in a small boat

Notes

“Countless miles” alludes to the Countless Miles Bridge nearby, where Zhuge Liang (see below) was said to have sent off the envoy Fei Yi going to Eastern Wu with the words, “A journey of count-less miles begins right here.”

蜀相

丞相祠堂何處尋
錦官城外柏森森

映階碧草自春色
隔葉黃鸝空好音

三顧頻煩天下計
兩朝開濟老臣心

出師未捷身先死
長使英雄淚滿襟

9.23 [760]

The Premier of Shu

Where is it, the temple of that Premier
Outside Brocade City, where cypresses grow dense

Shining on the steps, turquoise grass in self-same springtime
Orioles wasting sweet music among the boughs

Thrice sought, burdened with the world’s affairs
For two reigns the veteran gave his heart

Leading the army out, before victory he died
Making heroes since wet their sleeves with tears

Notes

The Premier is Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (3rd cent.), revered statesman, loyal adviser to the state of Shu during the Three Kingdoms period, and Du Fu’s personal hero. “Brocade City” refers to Chengdu.

梅雨

南京西浦道
四月熟黄梅

湛湛長江去
冥冥細雨來

茅茨疏易濕
雲霧密難開

竟日蛟龍喜
盤渦與岸回

9.24 [760]

Plum Rains

On South Capital’s West Cove road
In May ripen yellow plums

Deep and clear the great river departs
Dark and faint come evening rains

Sparse thatch roofs easily soak
Thick clouds and fog hardly disperse

All day long dragons rejoice
Eddies find the riverbank and drift back out

Notes

“Plum rains” refers to the rains of late spring, when the plums ripen.

賓至

幽棲地僻經過少
老病人扶再拜難

豈有文章驚海內
漫勞車馬駐江干

竟日淹留佳客坐
百年粗糲腐儒餐

不嫌野外無供給
乘興還來看藥欄

9.27 [760]

A Guest Comes

In this gloomy place, few are passersby
Old and infirm, being supported, I can hardly bow

How can my writings stir the world
In vain your carriage stops along the river

All day I have detained a wonderful guest
For a hundred years, coarse rice sustains a scholar

If you don’t mind the lack of a feast in the countryside
When you feel like it, come back and see my medicinal herbs

南鄰

錦裏先生烏角巾
園收芋粟不全貧

慣看賓客兒童喜
得食階除鳥雀馴

秋水才深四五尺
野航恰受兩三人

白沙翠竹江村暮
相對柴門月色新

9.41 [760]

Southern Neighbor

Brocade Mile’s gentleman, with kerchief like a crow’s beak
Harvests taro, millet from his garden – not entirely poor

Often seeing visitors, children rejoice
Finding food, birdlings frequent the steps

Autumn waters recently have risen four or five feet
A rural boat carries two or three persons neatly

White sand, turquoise bamboo – the river village grows dark
We say goodbye at the brushwood gate, in new moonlight

出郭

霜露晚淒淒
高天逐望低

遠煙鹽井上
斜景雪峰西

故國猶兵馬
他鄉亦鼓鼙

江城今夜客
還與舊烏啼

9.48 [760]

Going Outside the City

Frost and dew – evening biting cold
High sky – lowers as I gaze

Distant mist, rising over salt mines
Slanting shadows, west of snowy peaks

The old country still at war
Foreign lands too echo war drums

In the river city, tonight a guest
Again befriends old crows cawing

客至(喜崔明府相過)

捨南捨北皆春水
但見群鷗日日

花徑不曾緣客掃
蓬門今始為君開

盤飧市遠無兼味
樽酒家貧只舊醅

肯與鄰翁相對飲
隔籬呼取盡餘杯

9.72 [761]

A Guest Comes (Celebrating Vice-Prefect Cui’s Visit)

North and south of the house, all spring pools
Day after day, I only see flocks of gulls arrive

The flowered path isn’t often swept for visitors
The weedy gate today only for you opens

Our meals, far from market, lack flavors
Wine cups, at a poor home, hold just old brew

But if you’d sit and drink with the old man next door
I’ll call him over the fence and we’ll drain the last cups

Notes

Stephen Owens notes that, for Du Fu’s distinguished guest, drinking with the commoner next door would’ve been a startling breach of decorum. The poet’s convivial neighborliness, couched in the most courtly language, masks an unconventional challenge.

春夜喜雨

好雨知時節
當春乃發生

隨風潛入夜
潤物細無聲

野徑雲俱黑
江船火獨明

曉看紅濕處
花重錦官城

10.3 [761]

Spring Night, Joy in Rain

The good rains know the season
In spring coming to life

With the wind sink deep into night
Silently refreshing the world

Clouds darken every country lane
On the river a boat’s fire – singly bright

Dawn will show places wet and red
Laden flowers in Old Chengdu

Notes

Old Chengdu – lit. "Brocade Official City," on account of Chengdu being once a center of brocade production, whose tribute of brocade to the capital was overseen by an official. This epithet honors Chengdu, while putting a seal on the poem’s wonderful sense of joy in restoration and renewal. A perennial, popular classic!

落日

落日在簾鉤
溪邊春事幽

芳菲緣岸圃
樵爨倚灘舟

啅雀爭枝墜
飛蟲滿院遊

濁醪誰造汝
一酌散千憂

10.7 [761]

Sunset

Setting sun at curtain hooks
Along the creek, spring’s sights all silent

Fragrant herbs – garden along the bank
Wood fire – a boat against the waterfall

Pecking sparrows fight for a fallen branch
Flying insects fill the whole yard

Cloudy wine, who invented you
That one sip disperses a thousand worries

可惜

花飛有底急
老去願春遲

可惜歡娛地
都非少壯時

寬心應是酒
遣興莫過詩

此意陶潛解
吾生後汝期

10.8 [761]

Alas

Flowers fall, hurry to their end
Old, I hope that spring tarries

Alas, the places of jubilation
Are not the scene of my strong youth

To rejoice the heart, welcome is wine
To give vent to feelings, best is poetry

This sentiment Tao Qian understood
But I was born after your time

江上值水如海勢聊短述

為人性僻耽佳句
語不驚人死不休

老去詩篇渾漫與
春來花鳥莫深愁

新添水檻供垂釣
故著浮槎替入舟

焉得思如陶謝手
令渠述作與同遊

10.16 [761]

On the River Seeing the Waters Rise Like a Sea – A Brief Account

I’m one, strange by nature, obsessed with fine sentences
If words do not startle, death itself is without rest

As I grow old, my compositions are truly careless
Come spring, flowers and birds need not deeply sorrow

Newly extended, the riverside porch is for fishing
From before, a raft to float on, instead of entering a boat

Where can I find one with thoughts like Tao and Xie
On a beautiful creek we’ll write and travel together

Notes

The first couplet is often cited as evidence of Du Fu’s conscious and painstaking artistry – his obsession with craft, as we might say nowadays. The rest of the poem, including the extravagant and seemingly irrelevant title, is perhaps too clever, although undeniably beautiful. (Consider, for example, how the second couplet completely, deviously contradicts the first!)

Tao Qian 陶潛 and Xie Lingyun 謝靈運 (both 4th cent.) were revolutionary figures in Chinese poetry, founders of nature or landscape poetry as the Tang knew it. Tao Qian was particularly revered by Tang poets, including Du Fu.

水檻遣心二首

其一

去郭軒楹敞
無村眺望賒

澄江平少岸
幽樹晚多花

細雨魚兒出
微風燕子斜

城中十萬戶
此地兩三家

10.17 [761]

Riverside Porch – Expressing My Feelings

No. 1

Outside the city, my veranda is wide
Not a village nearby – the view goes far

Clear river, level along the narrow bank
Quiet trees, evening full of blossoms

In fine drizzles, small fish come out
In light breezes, young swallows slant

Within the city, ten myriad clans
Around here, two or three homes

其二

蜀天常夜雨
江檻已朝晴

葉潤林塘密
衣乾枕席清

不堪祗老病
何得尚浮名

淺把涓涓
深憑送此生

No. 2

Shu weather – frequent night rains
Riverside porch – already early light

Leaves drenched, forest pond hidden
Clothes dry, pillow and sitting mat cool

Though hating old age and sickness
How can I esteem uncertain fame

Lightly I hold scant cups of wine
Deeply count on them to send off this life

晚晴

村晚驚風度
庭幽過雨沾

夕陽薰細草
江色映疏簾

書亂誰能帙
杯乾自可添

時聞有餘論
未怪老夫潛

10.21 [761]

Late Clearing (I)

The late village, wind gusts cross
Gloomy courtyard, passing rain douses

Evening sunlight scents fine grass
River colors shine on open blinds

Books in disarray – who can shelve
Cup empty – I’m able to pour myself

Sometimes I hear there are comments
Not faulting an old man for staying hidden

進艇

南京久客耕南畝
北望傷神坐北窗

晝引老妻乘小艇
晴看稚子浴清江

俱飛蛺蝶元相逐
並蒂芙蓉本自雙

茗飲蔗漿攜所有
瓷罌無謝玉為缸

10.31 [761]

Boating

Long a guest of South Capital, I cultivate south fields
Gazing north, spirit-wounded, I sit at the north window

Today I led my old wife into the small boat
We watched sunlit children bathing in the clear river

Flying in pairs were butterflies, chasing each other
Double hibiscus blossoms matched, on single stalks

We sipped sugarcane juice brought from the house
Ceramic jars, undisdained, become as jade vessels

不見

不見李生久
佯狂真可哀

世人皆欲殺
吾意獨憐才

敏捷詩千首
飄零酒一杯

匡山 讀書處
頭白好歸來

10.60 [761]

I Haven’t Seen

I haven’t seen Master Li of old
Playing madman, truly pitiful

While so many want to kill you
I think only of your talent to mourn

Swiftly written – a thousand poems
Cast adrift – a single cup of wine

Mt. Kuang, where you read books
White-haired, it would be lovely for you to return

贈別何邕

生死論交地
何由見一人

悲君隨燕雀
薄宦走風塵

綿谷元通漢
沱江不向秦

五陵花滿眼
傳語故鄉春

10.72 [762]

Farewell Poem for He Yong

Where we became life-long friends
When will I see this special man

Sad sir, trailing swallows, sparrows
For thankless office, hurrying in windblown dust

Mian Valley originally connects with Han
Tuo River turns not for Qin

At Five Tombs, when flowers fill the eye
Send word of spring in our old home

Notes

Mian Valley... Tuo River... – This is a poetic way of saying that He Yong is heading to Chang’an via Mian Valley, while the poet follows Tuo River in the opposite direction. (The third couplet in a farewell octave conventionally describes the journey that one or both parties will take.) Five Tombs or Wuling, with ghostly overtones here, was a scenic and wealthy area of Chang’an.

野望

西山白雪三城戍
南浦清江萬里橋

海內風廛諸弟隔
天涯涕淚一身遙

惟將遲暮供多病
未有涓埃答聖朝

跨馬出郊時極目
不堪人事日蕭條

10.81 [762]

Gazing in the Wilds (II)

Western peaks’ white snow – Three Forts’ defender
Southern bends’ clear stream – Countless Miles Bridge

Within the seas, windblown dust – brothers scattered
At world’s end, crying tears – lone self distant

Growing old and late, I attend to numerous ills
And haven’t a tiny mote to repay the Sage Emperor

On horseback leaving the city, I strain my gaze
Unable to bear the world’s affairs, each day more desolate

屏跡三首

其一

衰顏甘屏跡
幽事供高臥

鳥下竹根行
龜開萍葉過

年荒酒價乏
日並園蔬課

猶酌甘泉歌
歌長擊樽破

10.83 [762]

Hiding Tracks

No. 1

Old, it’s sweet to hide tracks
Secluded things support my high leisure

Birds fly down, tramp bamboo roots
A turtle parts duckweed, passing through

Failed year – wine funds are lacking
Day after day, I collect garden greens

Still I drink, singing of sweet fountains
Singing at length, striking the cup broken

Notes

Striking the cup broken – Forced into retirement, the rebellious Jin general Wang Dun would drink heavily and sing of his unhappiness – not of the sweet fountains of a prosperous country in good governance! – while striking his baton on a spittoon to keep time, leaving its rim chipped and cracked. Wang’s cracked or chipped spittoon became a shorthand for harboring great frustration.

其二

用拙存吾道
幽居近物情

桑麻深雨露
燕雀半生成

村鼓時時
漁舟個個

杖藜從白首
心跡喜雙清

No. 2

Clumsily I keep my own way
Secluded living near creatures’ thoughts

Hemp and mulberry deepen in rain and dew
Swallows and sparrows – half new-born, half grown

Village drums the hours hurry
Fishing boats glide lightly one by one

Goosefoot cane, white-haired I follow
Mind and tracks joyously matched in purity

Notes

“Mind and tracks matched in peaceful silence” 心跡雙寂寞 was a line that the great poet Xie Lingyun wrote in his retirement. This high-minded declaration, coming so unexpectedly after the first octave, unravels in the next. Observing the triptych as a whole, one sees the dynamic arrangement of parts that makes Du Fu’s sequences so innovative and memorable. A variant has the order of the last two poems reversed.

其三

晚起家何事
無營地轉幽

竹光團野色
舍影漾江流

失學從兒懶
長貧任婦愁

百年渾得醉
一月不梳頭

No. 3

I get up late – what’s there to do
No business – the area is secluded

Bamboo’s shine gathers the rural scene
The house’s reflection wavers on the river’s flow

Failing at lessons, my boys grow lazy
Always poor – let my wife worry

In a lifetime, I’ve only managed to get drunk
For one month, I haven’t combed my hair

野人送朱櫻

西蜀櫻桃也自紅
野人相贈滿筠籠

數迴細寫愁仍破
萬顆勻圓訝許同

憶昨賜霑門下省
退朝擎出大明宮

金盤玉箸無消息
此日嘗新任轉蓬

11.16 [762]

A Rustic Sends Crimson Cherries

Western Shu’s cherries also have turned red
A rustic’s present to me fills a bamboo basket

Several times carefully poured – sorrow disperses
Myriad orbs evenly round – astonishing likeness

I remember, once, a gift of grace to the Chancellery
Leaving court, we carried some out of Daming Palace

Of golden trays, jade chopsticks, there is no news
Today I taste anew the lot of tumbleweeds

Notes

Cherries of the imperial gardens were distributed yearly to officials in the capital, as part of rituals celebrating the Tang dynastic line. “Tumbleweed” (i.e. windblown dandelion puff) commonly describes the life of an exile.

奉濟驛重送嚴公四韻

遠送從此別
青山空復情

幾時杯重把
昨夜月同行

列郡謳歌惜
三朝出入榮

將村獨歸處
寂寞養殘生

11.26 [762]

At Fengji Station, Again Bidding General Yan Goodbye, in Four Rhymes

Long-traveling, here we say goodbye
Among green hills, vainly sad again

When shall we take again the wine cup
Last night ambling together in moonlight

All the provinces cherish you in songs
Three reigns have called upon your success

A rural village is where alone I’ll return
To nurse final days in peaceful silence

客夜

客睡何曾著
秋天不肯明

捲帘殘月影
高枕遠江聲

計拙無衣食
途窮仗友生

老妻書數紙
應悉未歸情

11.41 [762]

Night Away from Home

Away from home how can I sleep
Fall sky doesn’t want to get bright

I raise the blinds to dying moonlight
On my high pillow, far river sounds

My plans are clumsy – no food or clothes
At the end of the road, I rely on friends

Old wife has written several pages
She must know how I feel not being at home

Notes

A wonderful example of the poet’s relaxed, familiar style. And once again, a message to his wife.

野望

金華山北涪水西
仲冬風日始凄凄

山連越巂蟠三蜀
水散巴渝下五溪

獨鶴不知何事舞
饑烏似欲向人啼

射洪春酒寒仍綠
極目傷神誰為攜

11.53 [762]

Gazing in the Wilds (III)

North of Mount Jinhua, west of Fu River
Midwinter’s blustery days turn biting cold

Peaks lead to Yuexi, coiling round Three Shu
Waters disperse at Bayu, down to Five Streams

Single crane – I don’t know why it dances
Hungry crow – turns to me as if to cry out

Shotflow’s spring wine in winter is still green
I look afar, wound my spirit, but who’ll pour for me

Notes

The last couplet is adapted from David McCraw’s translation. Traditional toponyms are often majestic, but completely unwieldy in translation. Here the name “Shotflow” is crucial, figuring the torrent of grief that sweeps past the withheld flow of wine. A superb example of couplet construction!

聞官軍收河南河北

劍外忽傳收薊北
初聞涕淚滿衣裳

卻看妻子愁何在
漫捲詩書喜欲狂

白日放歌須縱酒
青春作伴好還鄉

即從巴峽穿巫峽
便下襄陽向洛陽

11.68 [763]

Upon Hearing That Royal Troops Have Taken Henan and Hebei

Beyond Jin, suddenly they say that Jibei is taken
I’ve just heard the news, when tears drench my clothes

Turning to see my wife and children – how can sorrow remain
Hurriedly I roll up my poems and books – going mad for joy

In bright day, sing out – you must gulp down wine
Make verdant spring your companion – it’s good to go back home

So I’ll follow Ba Gorge, to Wu Gorge
Down to Xiangyang, then on to Luoyang

Notes

The recovery of Henan and Hebei by Tang forces signified, officially, the end of the An-Shi Rebellion. In this moment of joy, the poet pictures the journey he would take to join his extended family in Luoyang – a total distance of nearly 1500 miles, according to William Hung. It was a journey that, for one reason or another, he would keep putting off, until it was too late.

送路六侍禦入朝

童稚情親四十年
中間消息兩茫然

更為後會知何地
忽漫相逢是別筵

不分桃花紅勝錦
生憎柳絮白於綿

劍南春色還無賴
觸忤愁人到酒邊

12.6 [763]

Sending off Lu Six, Attendant Going to Court

Since childhood, we’ve been friends forty years
In between, word of each other grew vague

If we meet again – who knows then the place
Suddenly we see each other – it’s a farewell banquet

I don’t care for peach blossoms, redder than brocade
And hate so willow catkins, white as cotton

South of Jin, spring colors are rude
Assailing sorrowed ones, reaching beside the wine

客舊館

陳跡隨人事
初秋別此亭

重來梨葉赤
依舊竹林青

風幔何時卷
寒砧昨夜聲

無由出江漢
愁緒月冥冥

12.53 [763]

At a Familiar Inn

Old tracks follow human affairs
In early fall, I quit this pavilion

Again, pear leaves are crimson
As ever, the bamboo forest is green

When shall my sail be furled up
Winter mallets last night sounded

No chance yet of leaving Jianghan
Troubled thoughts – the moon grows dark

自閬州領妻子卻赴蜀山行三首

其一

汩汩避群盜
悠悠經十年

不成向南國
復作遊西川

物役水虛照
魂傷山寂然

我生無倚著
盡室畏途邊

13.28 [764]

Mountain Journey from Langzhou Taking My Wife and Children Back to Shu

No. 1

Headlong, we fled the rebels
Constantly wandering, it’s been ten years

Not having set off for southern lands
Again I make the journey to West River

Servant to things, water’s unreal reflections
Spirit-wounded, mountains going silent

My life has no place of refuge
The whole family beside perilous roads

其II

長林偃風色
迴復意猶迷

衫裛翠微潤
馬銜青草嘶

棧懸斜避石
橋斷卻尋溪

何日干戈盡
飄飄愧老妻

No. 2

Tall forests, showing wind’s shape
Turning round, I wonder if we’re lost

Our clothes are wet, soaked by azure mist
The horse chomps on green grass and neighs

On hanging planks, we teeter avoiding rocks
The bridge severed, go back and look for the creek

When will all this fighting cease
Cast adrift, I am ashamed before my aged wife

其III

行色遞隱見
人煙時有無

僕夫穿竹語
稚子入雲呼

轉石驚魑魅
抨弓落狖鼯

真供一笑樂
似欲慰窮途

No. 3

Travelers’ shadows appear, then disappear
Human smoke, there, and now gone

Our servant going through bamboo talks
My boy entering into clouds shouts

A rolling rock startles goblins
Twanging bow felling monkeys and flying squirrels

Truly it’s a gift, this moment of mirth
As if to console us during our greatest need

別房太尉墓

他鄉復行役
駐馬別孤墳

近淚無乾土
低空有斷雲

對棋陪謝傅
把劍覓徐君

唯見林花落
鶯啼送客聞

13.31 [764]

Bidding Goodbye to Grand Marshal Fang’s Grave

Abroad, again I’m going to serve
Halt the horse, bid goodbye to a lonely grave

From recent tears, no dry earth
In lowering sky are broken clouds

At chess, I attended Tutor Xie
Bringing my sword, I seek the Lord of Xu

I only see flowers falling in the forest
An oriole sings, as if to bid the wanderer goodbye

Notes

This is a poem of tear-choked, yet immensely decorous grief. The third couplet brings two classical allusions that pay tribute to Fang. “Tutor Xie” indicates the Eastern Jin minister Xie An, a brilliant and sure strategist. The story is told of his having played chess while awaiting the outcome of the Battle of Fei River; when word came that Jin forces had won, he showed no trace of emotion and calmly played on. The unnamed Lord of Xu, on the other hand, was a gracious host and noble sword connoisseur. Prince Ji Zha of Wu (6th cent. BC), cultural hero, once paid him a visit while on a mission to Lu. To repay his kindness, Ji wanted to make him the gift of his fine sword, but had to wait because it was a part of his ambassadorial outfit. After completing his mission, Ji once again passed through Xu, but was distraught to learn that his host had died. After this tribute, an oriole bids both poet and the deceased, combined in the word “wanderer” (or “guest” or “traveler”), a final goodbye.

宿府

清秋幕府井梧寒
獨宿江城蠟炬殘

永夜角聲悲自語
中天月色好誰看

風塵荏苒音書絕
關塞蕭條行陸難

已忍伶俜十年事
強移棲息一枝安

14.5 [764]

Overnight at Headquarters

Clear autumn at headquarters, well-side wutong cold
In this river city I’m alone, my candle burning out

Unending night’s bugle sounds, saying mournful things
Who now admires the fair moon, in the middle of the sky

In war’s dust, letters momently vanish
Through desolate border passes, the ways are hard

After ten years of uncertain existence
Forced to move, I perch to rest, secure on a single branch

倦夜

竹涼侵臥內
野月滿庭隅

重露成涓滴
稀星乍有無

暗飛螢自照
水宿鳥相呼

萬事干戈裏
空悲清夜徂

14.9 [764]

Weary Night

Bamboo cold invades the chamber
Wild moonlight floods courtyard nooks

Heavy dewdrops form tiny trickles
Rare stars blink, there and suddenly gone

Darkly flying, fireflies glow
Roosting on the water, birds call out

Countless affairs caught up in war
Vainly I worry, the clear night lapses

Notes

A poem of cold and strange images in uneasy juxtaposition, where the awfulness of war becomes so much a part of nature’s many eerie processes.

喜雨

南國旱無雨
今朝江出雲

入空纔漠漠
灑迥已紛紛

巢燕高飛盡
林花潤色分

晚來聲不絕
應得夜深聞

14.53 [765]

Celebrating Rain

In southern lands, drought, no rain
This morning, the river sends up clouds

They enter the sky, then darkly spread
Drizzles in the distance, already thick

Nesting swallows – high flights done
Forest flowers – soaked colors divide

Come evening, rain’s sound hasn’t ceased
Surely I’ll hear it late tonight

禹廟

禹廟空山裏
秋風落日斜

荒庭垂橘柚
古屋畫龍蛇

雲氣生虛壁
江深走白沙

早知乘四載
疏鑿控三巴

14.60 [765]

Yu’s Temple

Yu’s temple among empty mountains
In autumn wind late sunlight slants

Deserted courtyard – sagging oranges and pomelos
Ancient building – painted dragons and serpents

Clouds’ breath moistens sheer cliffs
The river’s tow roils white sands

Early on I learned of his riding four vehicles
To chisel and drain the three regions of Ba

Notes

A hymn to Yu the Great 大禹, who dug and dredged channels to control the primordial floods that inundated China. Yu also established the calendar, taught people to farm and hunt, and was in short the very template of a virtuous and efficacious ruler. Oranges and pomelos signify the fruits of his labor, and dragons and serpents, the monsters that he expelled. Yu’s four vehicles were carts, boats, sledges, and spiked clogs.

旅夜書懷

細草微風岸
危檣獨夜舟

星垂平野闊
月涌大江流

名豈文章著
官應老病休

飄飄何所似
天地一沙鷗

14.63 [765]

Thoughts on a Night Abroad

Fine grass, breezing wind along the banks
With teetering mast, a boat goes alone at night

Stars droop down on quiet wilderness, vast
Splashing moonlight, the mighty river flows

What fame can writing achieve
An official, old and infirm, rightly leaves his post

Floating, floating – what am I like
Between heaven and earth – a sand gull

別常征君

兒扶猶杖策
臥病一秋強

白髮少新洗
寒衣寬總長

故人憂見及
此別淚相忘

各逐萍流轉
來書細作行

14.67 [765]

Farewell to the Departing Mr. Chang

Supported by my son, still I lean on a cane
Having lain sick more than an autumn

White hair I rarely wash
My winter robe, tied close, is baggy and long

I see that you, too, are worried
At this parting, we both shed tears

Each of us floats like duckweeds on the current
Make sure to write in well-formed lines

白帝城最高樓

城尖徑昃旌旆愁
獨立縹緲之飛樓

峽坼雲霾龍虎臥
江清日抱黿鼉遊

扶桑西枝對斷石
弱水東影隨長流

杖藜歎世者誰子
泣血迸空回白頭

15.11 [766]

From the Highest Tower of Baidi Citadel

The citadel narrows – paths steep, banners and pennons forlorn
I stand alone, gazing out, on this soaring tower

The gorge splits – in billowing mist, dragons and tigers sleep
The river clears – sunlight-bound, turtles and gators cruise

Fusang’s western branch faces broken cliffs
Ruoshui’s eastern glint follows the great river’s flow

Goosefoot cane, lamenting the world – who’s this fellow
Tears of blood spatter the void – turn your white head

Notes

Fusang – the Great Mulberry or cosmic tree from which the sun rises; Ruoshui – a river that flows out of mythic Mt. Kunlun in the West. East and west, here wonderfully inverted, delimit the world, while pointing to the mythic realms that lie beyond.

In legend, King Duyu of Shu died in exile and was transformed into a cuckoo that cried tears of blood for his homeland.

晚晴

返照斜初徹
浮雲薄未歸

江虹明遠飲
峽雨落餘飛

鳧鴈終高去
熊羆覺自肥

秋分客尚在
竹露夕微微

15.54 [766]

Late Clearing (II)

Reflected rays tilt, begin to fade
Drifting clouds scatter, do not return

River arc, bright in the distance, drinks
Gorge rain falls, in remnants flying

Wildgeese leave together high above
Brown bears wake to put on fat

Autumn equinox – a wanderer still remains
Dew on bamboo – dusk dim and faint

返照

楚王宮北正黃昏
白帝城西過雨痕

返照入江翻石壁
歸雲擁樹失山村

衰年肺病唯高枕
絕塞愁時早閉門

不可久留豺虎亂
南方實有未招魂

15.57 [766]

Reflected Rays (I)

North of the Chu king’s palace, it is now dusk
West of Baidi Citadel, threads of rain pass

Reflected rays enter the river, glance off green cliffs
Returning clouds enfold trees, blot out mountain villages

Old in years, lungs ailing – only high reclusion left
Cut-off frontier, sad times – early I shut the gate

I can’t stay long while wolves and tigers sow chaos
Southern lands are rich in unsummoned souls

Notes

“Reflected rays” refers to the last flare of sunlight seen before darkness.

晴二首

其一

久雨巫山暗
新晴錦繡文

碧知湖外草
紅見海東雲

竟日鶯相和
摩霄鶴數群

野花乾更落
風處急紛紛

15.58 [766]

Clear Skies

No. 1

In long showers, Wu mountains dark
Newly cleared, pattern of fine brocade

Green I know is grass beyond the lake
Red I see clouds east on the sea

All day orioles meld their song
Touching the void, several flocks of cranes

Wild flowers, drying, fall still more
Tumbling one after another in wind’s place

Notes

The seventh line is Stephen Owen’s wonderful translation.

其二

啼烏爭引子
鳴鶴不歸林

下食遭泥去
高飛恨久陰

雨聲衝塞盡
日氣射江深

迴首周南客
驅馳魏闕心

No. 2

Cawing crows fight to lead their young
Singing cranes don’t return to the forest

Lowering for food – find the mud gone
Flying high – hate the constant darkness

Rain’s sound runs to the border straight
Sun’s aura shoots into the river deep

Turning his head, a wanderer in Zhou South
Hurries on, with thoughts for the palaces of Wei

白帝

白帝城中雲出門
白帝城下雨翻盆

高江急峽雷霆斗
古木蒼藤日月昏

戎馬不如歸馬逸
千家今有百家存

哀哀寡婦誅求盡
慟哭秋原何處村

15.66 [766]

White Emperor

In White Emperor City, clouds leave the city gate
Below White Emperor City, rain like overturned buckets

High river, rushing gorge – thunder and lightning clash
Old woods, green vines – days and months grow dim

War horses aren’t like homecoming horses, running away
Of a thousand families, today one hundred families are remaining

Oh woe! bereaved women pleading for killing’s end
Howls on the autumn plains, from what village

Notes

White Emperor – i.e. Baidi (Citadel), referred to elsewhere. At this spot, in 25 CE, the warlord Gongsun Shu 公孫述 proclaimed himself the Emperor of Shu or Chengjia, styled “White Emperor.” He ruled for some twelve years, before the Han reconsolidated their empire. The White Emperor was also one of the Five Celestial Emperors, whose influence reigns over autumn.

中宵

西閣百尋餘
中宵步綺疏

飛星過水白
落月動沙虛

擇木知幽鳥
潛波想巨魚

親朋滿天地
兵甲少來書

17.4 [766]

Midnight

West Tower, more than a hundred yards high
At midnight, I walk the sheer screen

A falling star crosses waters white
Late moonlight shifts on sands empty

Choosing a tree, know hidden birds
Diving under waves, imagine the giant fish

Friends and kin scattered throughout the world
Past fighting armies, few letters have come

不寐

瞿塘夜水黑
城內改更籌

翳翳月沉霧
煇煇星近樓

氣衰甘少寐
心弱恨和愁

多壘滿山谷
桃源無處求

17.5 [766]

Sleepless

Qutang – night waters black
In the city – another watch sounds

Faint, the moon sinks in mist
Bright, stars near the tower

In ill health, I can little sleep
For a failing mind, ire and sorrow

Garrisons cover hills and valleys
Peach Blossom Spring is nowhere found

Notes

About Peach Blossom Spring – a place of perfect contentment and joy cut off from the outside world, as described in a fable by Tao Qian 陶潛.

露下天高秋水清
空山獨夜旅魂驚

疏燈自照孤帆宿
新月猶懸雙杵鳴

南菊再逢人臥病
北書不至雁無情

步蟾倚杖看牛斗
銀漢遙應接鳳城

17.9 [766]

Night (I)

Dew falls, skies high, autumn waters are clear
Among empty hills, alone at night, wandering ghosts fear

A dim lamp shines by itself – lonely sailboat moored
The new moon still lingers – paired mallets ring out

Southern mums finding again, man felled by sickness
Northern letters don’t come, geese are without feelings

Walking in moonlight with a cane, I see Oxherd, Dipper
The Milky Way stretching perhaps as far as Phoenix City

Notes

Geese are without feelings – a variation on the geese as messengers or letter carriers motif. Phoenix City – Chang’an, the Tang capital.

草閣

草閣臨無地
柴扉永不關

魚龍回夜水
星月動秋山

久露清初濕
高雲薄未還

泛舟慚小婦
飄泊損紅顏

17.10 [766]

Thatch House

Our thatch house overlooks no land
The brushwood gate never shuts

Fish and dragons turn in night waters
Stars and moon stir above autumn peaks

Old dew, cold, shows newly wet
High clouds, sheer, do not return

Plying boats are bashful young wives
River life takes from their warm beauty

Notes

“Warm beauty” is David Hinton’s inspired translation of 紅顏 or “rosy complexion.”

宿江邊閣

暝色延山徑
高齋次水門

薄雲岩際宿
孤月浪中翻

鸛鶴追飛靜
豺狼得食喧

不眠憂戰伐
無力正乾坤

17.11 [766]

Overnight in the Riverside Tower

Twilight darkens far mountain roads
My high room overlooks the water

A sheer cloud rests beside cliffs
The lone moon tumbles among waves

Egrets search flying in silence
Wolves clamor running into food

Awake, I worry about the fighting
Powerless to set the world to rights

第五弟豐獨在江左...... (其二)

聞汝依山寺
杭州定越州

風塵淹別日
江漢失清秋

影著啼猿樹
魂飄結蜃樓

明年下春水
東盡白雲求

17.20 [766]

To My Fifth Brother Feng

I hear you’re sheltering in a mountain temple
In Hangzhou, or is it Yuezhou

War’s dust obscures our days apart
Jianghan loses another clear autumn

Before me are wailing gibbons’ trees
My soul floats to shells’ towers in the sea

Next year I’ll go down with the spring floods
To the eastern shore, searching white clouds

Notes

Shells’ towers – sea mirages, imagined to be formed from the breaths of mollusks. The title reads in full: “My Fifth Brother Feng Lives Alone in Jiangzuo – For Three or Four Years I Haven’t Heard from Him and Look for a Messenger to Send Him These Two Poems” 第五弟豐獨在江左,近三四載寂無消息,覓使寄此二首。 This is the second of the pair.

秋興八首

其一

玉露凋傷楓樹林
巫山巫峽氣蕭森

江間波浪兼天湧
塞上風雲接地陰

叢菊兩開他日淚
孤舟一繫故園心

寒衣處處催刀尺
白帝城高急暮砧

17.26 [766]

Autumn Moods

No. 1

Jade dew withers and wounds maple tree forests
On Wu Mountain, in Wu Canyon – air desolate

Mid-river, surging waves rise to meet the sky
Over the pass, swift clouds join earth in darkness

Clustered mums have bloomed twice – tears for other days
A boat, tied up, reminds me of our old home

For winter clothes, everywhere blades and measures rush
Baidi Citadel high, hurry evening mallet beats

Notes

“Autumn Moods” is the culmination of Du Fu’s art of the poetic sequence and is often cited as his greatest work. Beginning in Kuizhou, a southern frontier (nos. 1-3), the poems in-creasing look back to Chang’an, the Tang capital from which he had been exiled, to recent and remote history of imperial grandeur (nos. 4-8). Water imagery dominates the sequence and the prevailing mood is that of an outpouring of grief.

Mallet beats – Mallets or clubs were used to pound fabric to make winter clothes. The sound of washing or fulling mallets, returned to again and again by Du Fu, was iconic for autumn.

其二

夔府孤城落日斜
每依南斗望京華

聽猿實下三聲淚
奉使虛隨八月槎

畫省香爐違伏枕
山樓粉堞隱悲笳

請看石上藤蘿月
已映洲前蘆荻花

No. 2

On Kui Prefecture, lonely city, setting sunlight slants
Every day I look to the capital, by the North Star

Truly, upon hearing gibbons, the third cry brings tears
To carry out a mission, vainly I ply the September raft

Muralled hall, incense burners, drift far from my sick pillow
A mountain tower, white-washed, hides a mournful flute

Look now, on stones, on creeping vines, moonlight
Already shining, reed blossoms before the island

Notes

September raft – A fisherman was said to have boarded a raft that floated by in September, sailing down the Yangtze, out to sea and ending up in the Milky Way, where his raft appeared to those on earth as a wandering star.

其三

千家山郭靜朝暉
日日江樓坐翠微

信宿漁人還泛泛
清秋燕子故飛飛

匡衡抗疏功名薄
劉向傳經心事違

同學少年多不賤
五陵衣馬自輕肥

No. 3

A thousand homes, mountain-rimmed, calm in morning sunlight
Day after day, on the river tower, I sit in a green haze

Staying two nights, fishermen return, bobbing on the waters
In clear autumn, swallows heedlessly fly to and fro

Kuang Heng submitted memorials, but his career came to naught
Liu Xiang taught the classics, although his conscience misgave

My classmates of younger days – most aren’t poor now
Robes and mounts in Wuling, effortlessly light and sleek

Notes

Heedlessly – instead of starting their migration south, that is. Kuang Heng and Liu Xiang were erudite scholars of the 1st cent. BC, during the Han dynasty; they were valued by their emperor, but suffered political persecution for their devotion to Confucian ideals. Wuling was a fashionable neighborhood of Chang’an.

其四

聞道長安似弈棋
百年世事不勝悲

王侯第宅皆新主
文武衣冠異昔時

直北關山金鼓振
征西車馬羽書馳

魚龍寂寞秋江冷
故國平居有所思

No. 4

I’ve heard it said that Chang’an resembles a chessboard
A hundred years of unbearably painful human affairs

Prince and marquis palaces boast new masters
Civil and military regalia have changed from former days

Directly north, bronze drums echo in mountain passes
Attacking west, war carts run with feathered dispatches

Fish and dragons keep silent in cold autumn waters
The old country, that peaceful life, remains in my thoughts

其五

蓬萊宮闕對南山
承露金莖霄漢間

西望瑤池降王母
東來紫氣漢函關

雲移雉尾開宮扇
日繞龍鱗識聖顏

一臥滄江驚歲晚
幾回青瑣點朝班

No. 5

Penglai palace complex faces South Mountain
Catching dew, bronze pillars amid the Milky Way

To the west, at Jasper Lake, Queen Mother descends
Arriving from the east, a purple mist fills Hangu Pass

Pheasant tails moving clouds – palace screens open
Sunlight circling dragon scales – see the Holy Countenance

I dwell on this dark river, dreading that the year grows late
How many times, by blue gates, counted I for morning court

Notes

The first two couplets present, in hugely compacted space, a whole succession of Daoist images, leading to the emperor’s dazzling appearance in the third couplet. Penglai Palace was named after the Daoist island of immortals; South Mountain sheltered Daoist hermits; Emperor Wu of the Han erected bronze pillars to collect dew, an essential ingredient of elixirs of immortality; Queen Mother of the West (a stand-in for Yang Guifei) lived on Jasper Lake, where she dispensed immortality and eternal bliss; and Laozi was said to have been preceded by a purple mist when he appeared at the Hangu Pass, where he left his teachings.

The Tang house traced its royal lineage to no less than Laozi, founder of Daoism. The poem reenacts a double dazzlement – that of Xuanzong by Daoist visions, to the neglect of an emperor’s duties, and that of the poet by the magnificence of the court itself. The latter masks Du Fu’s bitter criticism and regret.

其六

瞿塘峽口曲江頭
萬里風煙接素秋

花萼夾城通御氣
芙蓉小苑入邊愁

珠幕繡柱圍黃鶴
錦纜牙檣起白鷗

回首可憐歌舞地
秦中自古帝王州

No. 6

From Qutang Gorge’s mouth to Meandering River’s head
Countless miles of windblown mists link pale autumn

Calyx Hall’s secure corridor channeled royal aura
At Hibiscus Park, sad news arrived from the frontier

Pearl curtains, painted columns, surrounded yellow cranes
Brocade cables, ivory masts, sent up white gulls

I turn my head, sad for that place of songs and dances
Qin has been, since ancient days, the province of kings

Notes

Yellow cranes – scholar-officials. The juxtaposition with startled gulls is perhaps suggestive of their helplessness. They seem trapped in the opulent setting, at any rate.

其七

昆明池水漢時功
武帝旌旗在眼中

織女機絲虛夜月
石鯨鱗甲動秋風

波漂菰米沉雲黑
露冷蓮房墮粉紅

關塞極天惟鳥道
江湖滿地一漁翁

No. 7

Lake Kunming’s waters, a Han-era achievement
Emperor Wu’s banners remain before our eyes

Weaver Girl’s loom and thread idle beneath night’s moon
Stone Whale’s scaly armor stirs in autumn wind

Waves float wild-rice seeds – clouds lowering black
Dew chills lotus pods – strewn pollen, red

From frontier to horizon, only birds’ passages
On rivers and lakes, covering this land, one old fisherman

Notes

Lake Kunming was a reservoir built by the Han for naval exercises. Weaver Girl and Stone Whale were statues on the lake. Weaver Girl may have gone off to see Cowherd, her mythical companion, on the other side of the lake. Stone Whale’s movement harbingers a storm, boding ill for their meeting. The middle couplets here are superb examples of the visual intensity, close texture, and dense balancing of disparate elements that makes this such a rich and remarkable sequence.

其八

昆吾御宿自逶迤
紫閣峰陰入渼陂

香稻啄余鸚鵡粒
碧梧栖老鳳凰枝

佳人捨翠春相問
仙侶同舟晚更移

彩筆昔曾干氣象
白頭吟望苦低垂

No. 8

To Kunwu Park, Yusu River meandered round
Zige Peak’s shadow entered into Lake Meipi

Fragrant rice, from pecking strewed – parrots’ grains
Green wu, roosting to old age – phoenixes’ branch

Beauties gathered kingfisher feathers, making visits in spring
Immortal companions shared a boat, gliding in the dusk

My many-colored brush once vied with the elements
White-haired, I chant and gaze, sunk in anguish

Notes

Kunwu Park, Yusu River, Zige Peak, Lake Meipi – all scenic attractions in the environs of Chang’an. The second line recalls the virtuosic showpiece, “A Song of Lake Meipi” 渼陂行, that Du Fu had written years earlier, when he was still in the capital.

Fragrant rice... phoenixes’ branch – a famously gnarly couplet. The sense is clear enough, that times were prosperous (with fragrant rice enough for parrots) and the emperor’s rule was just (phoenixes were said to descend only during an enlightened reign), but the contorted, almost unsalvageable syntax colors this vision in a strange way.

Many-colored brush – Late in his life the poet Jiang Yan 江淹 (5th cent.), was said to have met the great scholar Guo Pu 郭璞 (3rd cent.) in a dream. Guo asked Jiang to return the many-colored brush that he had lent him years ago. Thereafter, Jiang’s talent abandoned him and his brush fell silent. It’s true that Du Fu’s political career had failed, but the most extraordinary period of his creativity, the Kuizhou years, had only just begun. His invoking Jiang Yan, best known for writing skillful imitations of past poets, may be modest or intensely ironic.

詠懷古跡五首(其一、二、三)

其一

支離東北風塵際
漂泊西南天地間

三峽樓臺淹日月
五溪衣服共雲山

羯胡事主終無賴
詞客哀時且未還

庾信平生最蕭瑟
暮年詩賦動江關

17.34 [766]

Singing of Feelings on Historical Traces

No. 1

Stranded in the Northeast, skirting war’s dust
Adrift in the Southwest, between heaven and earth

Three Gorges’ towers, terraces, prolong days and months
Five Streams’ clothings, costumes, meld clouds and mountains

The barbarian, serving his lord, in the end was unreliable
A man of verse, mourning the times, still hasn’t returned

Yu Xin, his whole life, was most unhappy
In later years, his rhapsodies moved the river’s passes

Notes

Five Streams – “Five Streams” indicates the river system of the Southwest, home to various non-Han peoples and tribes. The “barbarian” is either Hou Jing, who rebelled again the Liang, or An Lushan, who re-belled against the Tang.

Yu Xin 庾信 was a poet of the Liang Dynasty, sent to negotiate with Western Wei in the North, when the latter attacked Jiangling, Liang’s capital. Liang fell in 557, and Yu was held captive in Chang’an for the rest of his life. His “Rhapsody Lament for the South” 哀江南賦 resonated deeply with the poet. Here he is Du Fu’s alter ego – every line applies equally to both poets; only their homes and places of exile are swapped.

其二

搖落深知宋玉悲
風流儒雅亦吾師

悵望千秋一灑淚
蕭條異代不同時

江山故宅空文藻
雲雨荒臺豈夢思

最是楚宮俱泯滅
舟人指點到今疑

No. 2

Flutter and fall – I know well Song Yu’s grief
Gallant and refined – to me he’s also a teacher

Sad perspective of a thousand autumns – a sprinkling of tears
Desolation in different generations, at different times

His old abode by river and mountains – vain poetry
Deserted terrace in clouds and rain – is it only a dream

Worst off are Chu palaces, all destroyed
Fishermen point out the spot, doubtful to this day

Notes

“Flutter and fall” is a phrase from the magnificent opening of the “Nine Arguments” or “Nine Variations” 九辯, a long poem attributed to Song Yu, a poet of the Chu court in the late 3rd cent. BC. In the preface to another poem attributed to Song Yu, the poet describes how, in a dream, the King of Chu held tryst with the Goddess of Wu Mountain, who told him that she was the dawn clouds and the evening rain by the Terrace of Light. See David Hawkes’ The Songs of the South (Penguin Classics, 1985) for an account of Song Yu and his poetry.

其三

群山萬壑赴荊門
生長明妃尚有村

一去紫臺連朔漠
獨留青塚向黃昏

畫圖省識春風面
環珮空歸月下魂

千載琵琶作胡語
分明怨恨曲中論

No. 3

Mountain ranges, countless valleys, rush to Jingmen
To the village where Mingfei was born and grew up

From Purple Terrace, she went straight into the desert
Only a green grave remains in the falling dusk

A painting recalled her face in the spring wind
The tinkling of jewels seemed her soul returning in moonlight

For a thousand years, the pipa invents foreign words
Laying out the wronged one’s grief – in song its argument

Notes

Mingfei (Brilliant Consort) or Wang Zhaojun was reputedly a concubine in the harem of Emperor Yuan of the Western Han (1st cent. BC). Being pure of heart and extremely beautiful, Zhaojun refused to bribe the palace portraitist to paint a flattering picture. Naturally, he misrepresented her likeness, and the emperor never gave her a thought – until he saw her being sent, upon his own orders, to be married to a Xiongnu chief, in a peace-making move. He fell immediately and deeply in love, but the matter could not be rescinded and she went away forever. A number of popular, melancholy songs were attributed to her. She is often depicted on horseback playing the pipa, originally from Central Asia.

洞房

洞房環珮冷
玉殿起秋風

秦地應新月
龍池滿舊宮

繫舟今夜遠
清漏往時同

萬里黃山北
園陵白露中

17.52 [766]

Bridal Chamber

Bridal chamber – jewels ice-cold
Through jade halls, fall wind rises

Qin land should be seeing a new moon
Dragon Lake covers the old palace

Boats moored there tonight are distant
The water-clock drips clear, then as now

Countless miles north of yellow mountains
A tomb preserve lies in white dew

Notes

A vision of Xuanzong and Yang Guifei’s palace in the aftermath of An Lushan’s rebellion, the trio long dead by this point – Yang Guifei famously strangled by the emperor’s own guards, who demanded her death.

“Qin land” refers to the area encompassing Chang’an. “Tomb preserve” indicates the Tang royal cemetery. “Yellow Mountain” was the name of a palace of Han Wudi, north of which lay his Luxuriant Tomb (Maoling) complex. David McCraw notes that “in Du Fu’s mind, the palace’s name comes to life as real alps rearing between him and the emperor’s tomb up north” (p.198).

永與清溪別
蒙將玉饌俱

無才逐仙隱
不敢恨庖廚

亂世輕全物
微聲及禍樞

衣冠兼盜賊
饕餮用斯須

17.64 [766]

Musk Deer

Forever parted from clear creeks
Soon you’ll be among fine plates

No talent to follow hermit immortals
Not even daring to resent the cook

A world in chaos despises things whole
Tiniest cries bring on disaster

The robed and capped are robbers and thieves
Ravenous, they’ll gobble you right up

瞿塘兩崖

三峽傳何處
雙崖壯此門

入天猶石色
穿水忽雲根

猱玃須髯古
蛟龍窟宅尊

羲和冬馭近
愁畏日車翻

18.9 [766]

The Paired Cliffs of Qutang Gorge

Three Gorges pass down from where
Twin cliffs exalt this gate

Piercing sky still the color of stone
Swirling water splashes cloud roots

Monkeys’ beards grow ancient
Dragons’ caves are sacred

Xi He riding near in winter
Worries the sun’s car might topple

Notes

“Cloud roots” is a fanciful term for rocks, appropriate for this poem. Xi He is the charioteer of the sun, usually depicted as a woman.

Coming upon Qutang Gorge, the speaker seems to question the fearsome reputation of the Three Gorges. He quickly finds confirmation in the landscape, however, and gives himself wholly over to its mythic associations. In the last couplet, Du Fu engages in some myth-making of his own.

瞿唐懷古

西南萬壑注
勁敵兩崖開

地與山根裂
江從月窟來

削成當白帝
空曲隱陽臺

疏鑿功雖美
陶鈞力大哉

18.10 [766]

At Qutang, Meditating on Antiquity

Southwest – countless ravines pour
Fearsome – twin cliffs open out

Earth with hills’ roots fissure
River from the moon’s cave arrives

Carved into being, facing Baidi
A desolate bend hides Yang Terrace

Chiselled works may be lovely
But creation’s power is immense

Notes

The moon’s cave lies far in the west, where the moon sets. “Chiselled works” refers to the labors of Yu the Great in taming the floods (see

  • Yu’s Temple above). The rugged Southwestern frontier brought to Du Fu’s mind China’s mythic early history, as seen in the processes of geologic creation itself – called “the potter’s wheel” in Chinese.

  • 閣夜

    歲暮陰陽催短景
    天涯霜雪霽寒霄

    五更鼓角聲悲壯
    三峽星河影動搖

    野哭千家聞戰伐
    夷歌數處起漁樵

    臥龍躍馬終黃土
    人事音書漫寂寥

    18.13 [766]

    Tower Night

    Late in the year, nature’s balance hastens the days
    At world’s end, snow and frost clear up in the cold void

    Fifth watch drum and bugle mourn loud
    Above Three Gorges, the Milky Way shimmers, adrift

    I hear war – a thousand homes weeping in wilderness
    Savage songs rising from scattered woods- and fisher-men

    Sleeping Dragon, Lunging Stallion, died yellow dirt
    Life and communications spill into wild silence

    Notes

    Sleeping Dragon, Lunging Stallion – Zhuge Liang and Gongsun Shu, respectively; defiant figures associated with the Kuizhou area.

    江梅

    梅蕊臘前破
    梅花年後多

    絕知春意好
    最奈客愁何

    雪樹元同色
    江風亦自波

    故園不可見
    巫岫鬱嵯峨

    18.42 [767]

    River Plums

    Flowers show before the first month
    After New Year’s they bloom in force

    I know for sure it’ll be a good spring
    Then how am I melancholy

    Snow and trees share first the same color
    Likewise, river wind makes waves rise

    I can’t see our old home
    Wu peaks overgrown pile up high

    暮春

    臥病擁塞在峽中
    瀟湘洞庭虛映紅

    楚天不斷西時雨
    巫峽常吹千里風

    沙上草閣柳新闇
    城邊野池蓮欲紅

    暮春鴛鴦立洲渚
    挾子翻飛還一叢

    18.49 [767]

    Late Spring

    Illness keeps me on the frontier, inside this gorge
    Xiaoxiang, Lake Dongting – shimmers a rosy mirage

    In Chu skies, endless rains four seasons
    Blowing through Wu Gorge, regular thousand-mile winds

    On the sand, thatch cabin, newly in willows’ shade
    Outside town, wild pond, where lotuses start to bloom red

    Late spring, mandarin ducks stand on river islets
    Fledglings, flying in disorder, return in a bunch

    晨雨

    小雨晨光內
    初來葉上聞

    霧交才灑地
    風逆旋隨雲

    暫起柴荊色
    輕沾鳥獸群

    麝香山一半
    亭午未全分

    18.87 [767]

    Dawn Rain

    Light rain, contained in dawn’s glow
    I hear starting to fall on the trees

    With fog combines to wet the ground
    Wind-blown, follows the clouds

    Now the color of thorny shrubs stands out
    Lightly sprinkled, birds and beasts flock

    Of Musk Deer Mountain, one half shows
    By noon, the whole still hasn’t appeared

    見螢火

    巫山秋夜螢火飛
    簾疏巧入坐人衣

    忽驚屋裡琴書冷
    復亂檐邊星宿稀

    卻繞井闌添個個
    偶經花蕊弄輝輝

    滄江白髮愁看汝
    來歲如今歸未歸

    19.28 [767]

    Seeing Fireflies

    Fall night in Wu mountains – fireflies are flying
    Through open blinds, amazingly onto my clothes where I sit

    I’m startled – the chamber, qin and books, cold
    They tumble out beyond the eave, among scattered stars

    Now all around the well-curb, gathering one by one
    Now nonchalantly dancing over flowers, stamens, brilliant

    Beside the dark river, an old man, I watch you sadly
    This time next year, will I have returned, or no

    Notes

    In the original, without pronouns, the final question applies equally to the fireflies, as to the poet – i.e. “This time next year, will you return or no?” I’ve often wondered how William Empson would’ve applied his method of analyzing verbal ambiguities to Tang poetry, and to Du Fu in particular. A poem of stunning visual and verbal elisions – truly dazzling!

    秋清

    高秋蘇病氣
    白發自能梳

    藥餌憎加減
    門庭悶掃除

    杖藜還客拜
    愛竹遣兒書

    十月江平穩
    輕舟進所如

    19.43 [767]

    Fall’s Clarity

    In late fall, my asthma improves
    White hair I’m able to comb myself

    Medicine I hate adding and subtracting
    Gate and yard – too lazy to sweep

    On my goosefoot cane, I bow to guests
    Tell my boy to write praising bamboos

    November’s river is level and calm
    A small boat will take me anywhere

    秋野五首

    其一

    秋野日疏蕪
    寒江動碧虛

    繫舟蠻井絡
    卜宅楚村墟

    棗熟從人打
    葵荒欲自鋤

    盤餐老夫食
    分減及溪魚

    20.4 [767]

    Autumn Wilds

    No. 1

    Autumn wilds daily barren and scraggly
    The cold river ripples blue skies

    I tie my boat to the Mon’s Well Rope
    And site my home in Chu rural wilds

    Ripened dates let others get at
    Seedy mallow soon I will hoe out myself

    This meal of an old man’s foods
    I will take some to the fish in the creek


    其二

    易識浮生理
    難教一物違

    水深魚極樂
    林茂鳥知歸

    吾老甘貧病
    榮華有是非

    秋風吹幾杖
    不厭北山薇

    No. 2

    It’s easy to see the ways of creatures
    Hard to tell one thing to change its course

    In deep waters fish are happiest
    Birds know to return to lush forests

    Old, I accept poverty and sickness
    Youth and glory are full of strife

    Autumn wind blows, I’m on my cane
    Never tiring of north mountain’s ferns

    Notes

    “North mountain’s ferns” alludes to the story of Bo Yi and Shu Qi, brothers during the collapse of the Shang Dynasty (11th cent. BC). After the Shang’s defeat, they retreated into the mountains, where they starved to death, refusing to eat the grains that were now subject to the new Zhou Dynasty. A wry comment on being a loyal subject!

    其三

    禮樂攻吾短
    山林引興長

    掉頭紗帽仄
    曝背竹書光

    風落收松子
    天寒割蜜房

    稀疏小紅翠
    駐屐近微香

    No. 3

    Rites and music correct one’s faults
    Hills and woods bring lasting delight

    I nod off – gauze cap tilts
    I sun my back – bamboo book shines

    After a windstorm, I gather pine cones
    In cold weather, I break into honeycombs

    Frail and scarce, small reds and blues
    In my clogs I stop, near mild fragrance

    Notes

    The first two lines rehearse common Confucian and Daoist tenets. Gauze caps were worn by officials (here grown lax), and “bamboo book” indicates an ancient tome or classic (which he is no longer reading). The third couplet depicts him as a hungry hermit, and the last, a perfect aesthete.

    其四

    遠岸秋沙白
    連山晚照紅

    潛鱗輸駭浪
    歸翼會高風

    砧響家家
    樵聲個個

    飛霜任青女
    賜被隔南宮

    No. 4

    On distant shores, autumn sands white
    Through linked mountains, evening shines red

    Diving fish escape frightful waves
    Homing birds encounter high winds

    Mallets’ echo – ringing from each house
    Axes’ sound – in rhythm, every stroke

    Hoarfrost welcomes Qingnu
    Gifting me a quilt, far from South Palace

    Notes

    Qingnu or “Dark Maiden” was the goddess of frost and snow. South Palace was a constellation, as well as a name for the Department of State Affairs, to which Du Fu aspired. During Han times, white quilts were given at night to officials working in this department in the capital.

    其五

    身許麒麟畫
    年衰鴛鷺群

    大江秋易盛
    空峽夜多聞

    徑隱千重石
    帆留一片雲

    兒童解蠻語
    不必作參軍

    No. 5

    I lived for a Unicorn Hall portrait
    In old age flock with mallards and egrets

    The Great River swells high in autumn
    In empty gorges, night is full of sounds

    Paths hide among a thousand strong rocks
    A sail lingers – single sheer cloud

    My boy is fluent in Mon speech
    Though not hoping to join the army

    Notes

    Unicorn Hall was where the portraits of great heroes hung. Mallards and egrets – common term for court officials; here literally mallards and egrets, an ironic reversal.

    This famous sequence post-dates “Autumn Moods” by a year and follows completely different methods, under a far more tranquil state of mind. The shorter five-character line curbs emotion and, in the place of extreme anguish, there’s much effortless humor. Even the jokey final couplet, which can seem like such a let-down, relates to this overall paring down of rhetoric and feelings. That sail that would take the poet back to Chang’an – an ever-present wish in the late poetry – now hovers on the horizon, neither nearing nor receding, but suspended in its own remote, lucent equipoise. A masterful sequence!

    返照

    返照開巫峽
    寒空半有無

    已低魚復暗
    不盡白鹽孤

    荻岸如秋水
    松門似畫圖

    牛羊識僮僕
    既夕應傳呼

    20.12 [767]

    Reflected Rays (II)

    Reflected rays open up Wu Gorge
    Cold sky half there and half gone

    Already sunk, Yufu goes dark
    Not yet finished, Baiyan stands forlorn

    Reed banks like autumn waters
    Pine Gate resembling a picture

    Cows, goats, know the servant boy
    Past evening respond to calls

    Notes

    Yufu – or Fish Return (i.e. where fish turn back on the river), a former name of Kuizhou. Baiyan – or White Salt, the southern and higher of two mountains forming the Kui Gate to Qutang Gorge. Pine Gate – another gorge.

    向夕

    畎畝孤城外
    江村亂水中

    深山催短景
    喬木易高風

    鶴下雲汀近
    鷄棲草屋同

    琴書散明燭
    長夜始堪終

    20.13 [767]

    Toward Evening

    Drained fields outside a lonely city
    River village among rebellious waters

    Deep mountains hurry short daylight
    Towering trees transmute high winds

    Cranes fly down – misty island near
    Chickens roost – a thatch roof we share

    Qin and books scatter the bright lamp
    Long nights only so are finished

    十六夜玩月

    舊挹金波爽
    皆傳玉露秋

    關山隨地闊
    河漢近人流

    谷口樵歸唱
    孤城笛起愁

    巴童渾不寢
    半夜有行舟

    20.35 [767]

    Night of the Sixteenth, Enjoying Moonlight

    Again I scoop up silvery waves bright
    How well they speak of jade dew autumn

    Frontier mountains line the earth vast
    The Milky Way near to men flow

    At the glen’s mouth, woodsmen returning sing out
    In the lonely city, a flute rises in lament

    Ba youths still aren’t asleep
    Boats are gliding out there at midnight

    十七夜對月

    秋月仍圓夜
    江村獨老身

    卷簾還照客
    倚杖更隨人

    光射潛虯動
    明翻宿鳥頻

    茅齋依橘柚
    清切露華新

    20.36 [767]

    Moon on the Night of the Seventeenth

    Fall moon staying full at night
    In this river hamlet I’m old and alone

    Raising blinds – again it shines on wanderers
    Leaning on a cane – still it follows men

    Gleaming rays stir dragons in the deeps
    Brightness rouses sleeping birds now and again

    Thatch study, bordering orange grove
    Sparkle with florid dew’s new light

    Notes

    Raising blinds... Leaning on a cane... – These “dangling” modifiers attach to the object nouns at the end of the line. The alternative is to treat each half of the lines as a complete sentence, with different implied subjects. Such ambiguity of subjects is a feature of Tang poetry and provides interest and tension that are lost in translation.

    曉望

    白帝更聲盡
    陽台曙色分

    高峰寒上日
    疊嶺宿霾雲

    地坼江帆隱
    天清木葉聞

    荊扉對麋鹿
    應共爾為群

    20.37 [767]

    Morning View

    Baidi’s watch sounds fade
    Yangtai’s dawn colors divide

    Above high peaks, cold the sun rises
    In the folds of ridges, linger mists and clouds

    Earth breaks hiding the river’s sails
    Skies clear with the sound of leaves

    My brushwood gate faces deer
    I ought to join you, flock with the herd

    日下四山陰
    山庭嵐氣侵

    牛羊歸徑險
    鳥雀聚枝深

    正枕當星劍
    收書動玉琴

    半扉開燭影
    欲掩見清砧

    20.39 [767]

    Twilight

    Sun goes down – surrounding mountains darken
    Hillside yard – cold air invades

    Oxen and goats return on paths dangerous
    Birds and sparrows gather in branches deep

    I straighten my pillow, facing stars’ sword
    Or read, then strike the jeweled qin

    In the half-open door, torchlight appears
    Going to close it, I hear the ringing of mallets

    Notes

    Stars’ sword – stars adorned very fine swords. Alternatively, the Sword, a northern constellation, corresponding to our Northern Cross.

    絕岸風威動
    寒房燭影微

    嶺猿霜外宿
    江鳥夜深飛

    獨坐親雄劍
    哀歌嘆短衣

    煙塵繞閶闔
    白首壯心違

    20.41 [767]

    Night (II)

    Over sheer banks, wind’s might moves
    In the cold room, candle light dims

    Mountain gibbons settle beyond frost
    River birds fly deep into the night

    I sit alone, draw near my heroic sword
    Sing in lament and sigh for my short robe

    Smoke and dust circle Heaven’s Gate
    A white head betrays my stalwart heart

    Notes

    I have borrowed from David McCraw’s translation, who notes that the poem’s elements “evoke third-century verse” and that the “archaic tone suits” this high-minded lament (p.117). Heaven’s Gate is metonymic for the Emperor’s palace or seat of government.

    憑孟倉曹將書覓土婁舊莊

    平居喪亂後
    不到洛陽岑

    為歷雲山問
    無辭荊棘深

    北風黃葉下
    南浦白頭吟

    十載江湖客
    茫茫遲暮心

    20.45 [767]

    Depending on Meng of the Granaries to Take a Letter and Seek Out My Old Estate at Tulou

    Living in peace, after death and chaos
    I haven’t reached Luoyang’s peaks

    Through every cloud and mountain seek
    Don’t shun thorns and brambles thick

    North wind – yellow leaves down
    South cove – white-haired I chant on

    Ten years a guest of rivers and lakes
    Lost in vastness, this late-tarrying mind

    登高

    風急天高猿嘯哀
    渚清沙白鳥飛迴

    無邊落木蕭蕭
    不盡長江滾滾

    萬里悲秋常作客
    百年多病獨登臺

    艱難苦恨繁霜鬢
    潦倒新停濁酒杯

    20.53 [767]

    Climbing High

    Winds gusting in high atmosphere, gibbons’ mournful wails
    Clear shallows, birds circling over white sands

    Boundless, tree leaves fall, rustling down
    Endless, the Great River arrives, advancing coils

    Long have I been a guest of melancholy autumn
    After a lifetime of illnesses, alone I climb to his height

    Rancor and suffering showing rich in gray temples
    Reeling, having recently given up cloudy wine

    耳聾

    生年鶡冠子
    歎世鹿皮翁

    眼複幾時暗
    耳從前月聾

    猿鳴秋淚缺
    雀噪晚愁空

    黃落驚山樹
    呼兒問朔風

    20.72 [767]

    Deaf

    Old in years as He Guanzi
    Lamenting the world like Lu Piweng

    My eyes, when will they too go dim
    My ear has been deaf since last month

    Gibbons cry – autumn tears amiss
    Sparrows chatter – late worries in vain

    Yellows fall frightfully from mountain trees
    I shout to my boy, asking if it’s the north wind

    Notes

    He Guanzi – or Pheasant Cap Master, a Daoist hermit of the 3rd cent. BC, author of the eponymous philosophical treatise. Lu Piweng – or Deerskin Old-Man, a hermit of Daoist legend. The allusions are self-explanatory; He Guanzi was really old and Lu Piweng lamented the world! It was the poet’s left ear that went deaf, according to William Hung.

    夜二首

    其一

    白夜月休弦
    燈花半委眠

    號山無定鹿
    落樹有驚蟬

    暫憶江東鱠
    兼懷雪下船

    蠻歌犯星起
    空覺在天邊

    20.81 [767]

    Night

    No. 1

    White night – the moon rests its bow
    Lamp sparks – half gone to sleep

    In roaring mountains, deer are restless
    Among falling leaves, cicadas take fright

    Now I remember bream from the river east
    And yearn so for a boat in the snow

    Tribal songs breaching the stars rise
    Emptily awake, I’m at heaven’s frontier

    Notes

    “Bream from the river east” refers to the story of Zhang Han of the Western Jin (3rd cent.), who did not care for courtly life and, declaring his longing for the cress and bream soup of his native land, gave up office to go home. “Boat in the snow” refers to a story about Wang Huizhi of the Eastern Jin (4th cent.), who once on a whim sailed all night in the snow to see a friend, only to turn back at the friend’s gate at dawn, because the mood had abandoned him. Both stories are about listening to one’s inner being. The last line is David McCraw’s translation.

    其二

    城郭悲笳暮
    村墟過翼稀

    甲兵年數久
    賦斂夜深歸

    暗樹依岩落
    明河繞塞微

    斗斜人更望
    月細鵲休飛

    No. 2

    City ramparts – mournful flute in the sunset
    Village cemetery – passing birds few

    Armored troops – it’s been many years
    Tax collectors – return late at night

    Leaves in the dark down cliffs fall
    The Milky Way surrounds the frontier dim

    Dipper slants – still I gaze
    The moon wanes – magpies rest their flight

    雨四首

    其一

    微雨不滑道
    斷雲疏復行

    紫崖奔處黑
    白鳥去邊明

    秋日新沾影
    寒江舊落聲

    柴扉臨野碓
    半得搗香粳

    20.88 [767]

    Rain

    No. 1

    Fine rains do not slick the roads
    Broken clouds sparsely resume their way

    Purple cliffs, where they hurry, go dark
    White birds, leaving the edge, bright

    In autumn sun, new stained shadows
    By the cold river, old falling sounds

    My brushwood gate overlooks a country mill
    Half done pounding fragrant rice

    其二

    江雨舊無時
    天晴忽散絲

    暮秋沾物冷
    今日過雲遲

    上馬迥休出
    看鷗坐不辭

    高軒當灧滪
    潤色靜書帷

    No. 2

    River rains, never at set hours
    A clear sky suddenly releases silken strands

    Late autumn, sprinkled things are cold
    Today the clouds pass by slowly

    I mount my horse, turn round before I’d left
    Watching gulls, I sit not thinking to go

    My high window faces Yanyu Stone
    Soaked sights calm my study’s screens

    Notes

    Yanyu Stone – a fearsome rock standing in the middle of the Kui Gate to Qutang Gorge, a peril to travelers during the autumn floods.

    其三

    物色歲將晏
    天隅人未歸

    朔風鳴淅淅
    寒雨下霏霏

    多病久加飯
    衰容新授衣

    時危覺凋喪
    故舊短書稀

    No. 3

    By the look of things, the year grows late
    From this stretch of sky, one has not returned

    North wind calls with passing whispers
    Cold rain falls in muddled showers

    Always ailing, long I’ve forced down food
    My frail form, recently given new clothes

    In dangerous times, I mind desolate death
    From old friends, even short letters are few

    其四

    楚雨石苔滋
    京華消息遲

    山寒青兕叫
    江晚白鷗飢

    神女花鈿落
    鮫人織杼悲

    繁憂不自整
    終日灑如絲

    No. 4

    In Chu rains, stone moss thrives
    From the capital, any news is late

    Among hills cold, a black beast bellows
    On the river at dusk, white gulls, hungry

    The goddess’s flower hairpins drop
    Mermaids’ weaving shuttles mourn

    Rich worries not sorting themselves out
    All day sprinkle like silken strands

    Notes

    A black beast bellows – The Chu king’s hunt of a black beast is remembered at the end of “Summons of the Soul,” a long poem from the great Chu Ci or Songs of Chu 楚辭 anthology of the 3rd cent. BC, whose melancholy themes surface often in Du Fu’s late poetry. Here “beast” 兕 recalls “menacing” or “violent” 兇, and is tremendously ominous.

    The goddess’s flower hairpins... – It rains so often that the goddess of rain, rushing to and fro, loses her flower hairpins (i.e. blossoms fall); and mermaids, imagined to weave silk underwater, have to give up their weaving. A beautifully rococo couplet. The last couplet effects a synthesis of rain and feelings that truly cannot be disentangled.

    夜歸

    夜來歸來沖虎過
    山黑家中已眠臥

    傍見北鬥向江低
    仰看明星當空大

    庭前把燭嗔兩炬
    峽口驚猿聞一個

    白頭老罷舞復歌
    杖藜不睡誰能那

    21.17 [768]

    Night Return

    In the night I return, slipping by small tigers on the road
    Mountains are black, the house inside has gone to sleep

    There, I see North Dipper, lowering toward the river
    Looking up, I watch Bright Star, shining big in the sky

    To the yard lights are brought – I’m vexed to see two torches
    At the gorge’s mouth a gibbon starts – echoes one cry

    A white-haired old man dances and then sings out
    On his goosefoot cane, refusing to sleep – who can do anything about it

    江邊星月二首

    其一

    驟雨清秋夜
    金波耿玉繩

    天河元自白
    江浦向來澄

    映物連珠斷
    緣空一鏡升

    餘光隱更漏
    況乃露華凝

    21.62 [768]

    By the Yangtze, Stars and Moon

    No. 1

    After heavy rain, clear fall night
    Silvery waves, radiant Jade Rope

    Heaven’s River – originally white
    Yangtze’s cove – recently clarified

    Sparkling on things, strung pearls snap
    Through the sky, one mirror soars

    Surplus light obscures the clepsydra’s drops
    Even more, dew’s splendor condenses

    Notes

    Jade Rope – a constellation. Strung pearls – the five asterisms or known planets. The 5th line is David McCraw’s translation.

    其二

    江月辭風纜
    江星別霧船

    雞鳴還曙色
    鷺浴自清川

    歷歷竟誰種
    悠悠何處圓

    客愁殊未已
    他夕始相鮮

    No. 2

    River moon quits windblown cables
    River stars take leave of fog-bound boats

    A rooster crows dawn’s returning light
    Egrets bathe in the self-same clear stream

    Thickly strewn, who will plant them
    Drifting off, where to be full again

    A wanderer’s sorrow, far from done
    Some other evening starts fresh and new

    舟月對驛近寺

    更深不假燭
    月朗自明船

    金刹青楓外
    朱樓白水邊

    城烏啼眇眇
    野鷺宿娟娟

    皓首江湖客
    鉤簾獨未眠

    21.64 [768]

    Moonlit Boat Opposite a Temple Near the Post-Station

    Night late, no need for a lantern
    Moonlight clear, the boat is bright

    Golden temple beyond green maples
    Vermilion tower beside white waters

    City crows cawing, faint in the distance
    Wild egrets roost, full of grace

    White-haired, a guest of rivers and lakes
    Raises blinds, alone, sleepless

    暮歸

    霜黃碧梧白鶴棲
    城上擊柝復烏啼

    客子入門月皎皎
    誰家搗練風淒淒

    南渡桂水闕舟楫
    北歸秦川多鼓鼙

    年過半百不稱意
    明日看雲還杖藜

    22.1 [768]

    Evening Return

    Frost yellows green wu – where white cranes perch
    On the rampart, watchman’s clapper – again crows make cry

    A wanderer enters his gate, brilliant with moonlight
    From someone’s house, the pounding of silk in chilly wind

    Crossing south, to Que waters, there are no boats
    The way back north, through Qin river, resounds war drums

    More than fifty years old – nothing suits my ideas
    Tomorrow, to view clouds, I will again take my goosefoot cane

    山館

    南國晝多霧
    北風天正寒

    路危行木杪
    身遠宿雲端

    山鬼吹燈滅
    厨人語夜闌

    雞鳴問前館
    世亂敢求安

    22.7 [768]

    Mountain Inn

    In the South, daytime is full of fog
    With north wind, it’s cold indeed

    The steep road goes through tree branches
    One far from home sleeps in the clouds

    Mountain goblins blow lamps extinguished
    Voices in the kitchen talk through the night

    A rooster crowing before the yard asks
    The world is in chaos, how can you look for peace

    冬深

    花葉隨天意
    江溪共石根

    早霞隨類影
    寒水各依痕

    易下楊朱淚
    難招楚客魂

    風濤暮不穩
    舍棹宿誰門

    22.21 [768]

    Deep Winter

    Flower or leaf – according to heaven’s wish
    River to creek – the same roots of stone

    Dawn’s rosy glow shadows each shape
    The cold water touches on all its trace

    Easily shed, Yang Zhu’s tears
    Difficult to summon, Chu’s wandering souls

    Wind, turbulence, evening no rest
    I put up oars, to stay at whose gate

    Notes

    Yang Zhu’s tears – Yang Zhu 楊朱 (4th cent. BC) was a philosopher who wept that every crossroads multiplied his chances of losing the way.

    Chu’s wandering souls – the shamanic ritual of recalling the soul of one who is dying is enacted in two iconic long poems from the Songs of Chu anthology; also a reference to the poet Qu Yuan (see note to the previous poem).

    曉發公安

    北城擊柝復欲罷
    東方明星亦不遲

    鄰雞野哭如昨日
    物色生態能幾時

    舟楫眇然去自此
    江湖遠適無前期

    出門轉盻已陳跡
    藥餌扶吾隨所之

    22.22 [768]

    Leaving Gong’an at Dawn

    North rampart – watchman’s rattle, again about to cease
    Eastern sky – Bright Star, too, does not tarry

    Neighbor’s chickens crying in the wilds – like yesterday
    The look of things, condition of life – how long will it last

    A boat dwindles into the distance, leaving this place
    To rivers and lakes faraway I go, without future promises

    Going out the gate I turn to look – already dusty old tracks
    Medicine cakes will help me wherever I go

    Notes

    Bright Star – Venus, the Morning and Evening Star.

    泊岳陽城下

    江國踰千里
    山城近百層

    岸風翻夕浪
    舟雪灑寒燈

    留滯才難盡
    艱危氣益增

    圖南未可料
    變化有鯤鵬

    22.28 [768]

    Mooring Beneath Yueyang’s City Wall

    River kingdom beyond a thousand miles
    Mountain city nearly hundred-tiered

    Wind on the bank tosses evening waves
    Snow in the boat sprinkles the cold lantern

    Delayed and tied up, talent hard to extinguish
    Amid difficulties and dangers, the more spirit rises

    Southward journeys I cannot yet reckon
    Through transformations that spawn Leviathan and Roc

    Notes

    Leviathan and Roc – The first chapter of Chuangzi 莊子 tells of a Kun or giant fish in northern seas that transforms into a Peng or giant bird, before journeying south. Kun-Peng’s southward journey, from north to south pole, from yin to yang, represents the awesome power of nature’s processes of change, as well as the spirit that soars free of all changes.

    登岳陽樓

    昔聞洞庭水
    今上岳陽樓

    吳楚東南坼
    乾坤日夜浮

    親朋無一字
    老病有孤舟

    戎馬關山北
    憑軒涕泗流

    22.30 [768]

    Climbing Yueyang Tower

    Long ago I heard of Dongting waters
    Today I climb Yueyang Tower

    Wu and Chu rive east and south
    Heaven and earth float day and night

    From family and friends, not a single word
    Old and infirm – there’s a lonely boat

    War horses north of border ranges
    I lean on the railing and tears flow

    宿白沙驛, 初過湖南五裏

    水宿仍餘照
    人煙復此亭

    驛邊沙舊白
    湖外草新青

    萬象皆春氣
    孤槎自客星

    隨波無限月
    的的近南溟

    22.36 [769]

    Staying at Baisha Station, Five Miles into Hunan

    Last light, settling again on the water
    Woodsmoke, then it’s this pavilion

    Around the station, sand’s old white
    Grass’s new green, beyond the lake

    Countless forms – all spring’s spirit
    Lone raft – itself a wandering star

    Carried on by waves, endless moonlight
    Makes way through southern waters

    野望

    納納乾坤大
    行行郡國遙

    雲山兼五嶺
    風壤帶三苗

    野樹侵江闊
    春蒲長雪消

    扁舟空老去
    無補聖明朝

    22.53 [769]

    Gazing in the Wilds (IV)

    Encompassing all, heaven and earth vast
    Hard to travel, district and country remote

    Cloudy peaks join Five Alps
    Wind-blown silt girds Three Miaos

    Wild trees verge on the river in flood
    Spring rushes lengthen as snow melts

    On a small boat leaving for vain old age
    I’ll fill no place in a sagely court

    江漢

    江漢思歸客
    乾坤一腐儒

    片雲天共遠
    永夜月同孤

    落日心猶壯
    秋風病欲蘇

    古來存老馬
    不必取長途

    23.11 [769]

    Yangtze and Han

    By Yangzte and Han, wanderer missing home
    Between Heaven and Earth, one failed scholar

    Wisps of clouds share sky’s distance
    Long nights with the moon are bleak

    Though the sun sets, my heart is still strong
    In autumn wind, illnesses can improve

    Since ancient times, old horses have been stabled
    Not told to take to the long road

    地隅

    江漢山重阻
    風雲地一隅

    年年非故物
    處處是窮途

    喪亂秦公子
    悲涼楚大夫

    平生心已折
    行路日荒蕪

    23.12 [769]

    Corner of Earth

    Jianghan hills rugged and hindering
    Winds, clouds – one corner of earth

    Year after year, no familiar thing
    Everywhere is the end of the road

    Fleeing chaos was a Qin gentleman
    Disconsolate, that great man of Chu

    I live but my heart is already broken
    And the way, each day more desolate

    Notes

    Qin gentleman – Wang Can 王粲, a poet during the twilight years of the Han, who fled Chang’an to seek refuge in the South, when fighting broke out and the capital was thrown into chaos.

    Great man of Chu – Qu Yuan 屈原 (3rd cent. BC), a Chu nobleman and poet who drowned himself in exile; central figure, as both author and inspiration, of the great Songs of Chu anthology (see the final poem in the sequence “Rains” above).

    對雪

    北雪犯長沙
    胡雲冷萬家

    隨風且間葉
    帶雨不成花

    金錯囊垂罄
    銀壺酒易賒

    無人竭浮蟻
    有待至昏鴉

    23.14 [769]

    Facing Snow (II)

    Northern snow breaches Changsha
    Barbaric clouds chill countless homes

    On the wind, leaves slowly fall
    Under rain, snow-blossoms fail to form

    My gold-embroidered purse hangs empty
    For my silver jug, easily I buy wine

    No one drinks up the cheap stuff
    I wait for evening’s crows

    Notes

    Easily I buy wine – on credit, that is. The cheap stufffuyi or “floating ants” refers to the top layer of a brew that contains foam or scum and is sold on the cheap.

    客從

    客從南溟來
    遺我泉客珠

    珠中有隱字
    欲辨不成書

    緘之篋笥久
    以俟公家須

    開視化為血
    衰今徵斂無

    23.17 [769]

    A Guest From

    A guest from southern seas came
    Left me a mermaid’s pearl

    On the pearl were secret words
    I wanted to but couldn’t read

    Long ago hidden in a case
    Awaiting its public need

    When opened, it has turned into blood
    Sadly, nothing to pay taxes with

    Notes

    A riddle/parable about oppressive taxation. Southern seas indicates the empire’s southern provinces, where pearls were harvested.

    小寒食舟中作

    佳辰強飲食猶寒
    隱几蕭條戴鶡冠

    春水船如天上坐
    老年花似霧中看

    娟娟戲蝶過閒幔
    片片輕鷗下急湍

    雲白山青萬餘里
    愁看直北是長安

    23.33 [770]

    Written in a Boat on Little Cold Food

    Lovely morning, I try to drink, food is still cold
    Leaning in my chair, bleakly I wear the pheasant cap

    Spring water – the boat seems to sit on sky
    Old age – flowers appear as through a fog

    Gracefully, butterflies cross my idle curtain
    Again and again, light gulls land on swift currents

    Clouds white, hills green – beyond countless miles
    Sadly I look – directly north is Chang’an

    Notes

    “Little Cold Food” likely refers to the last day of Cold Food Festival, a three-day festival in April, during which fire was prohibited. The pheasant cap is worn by hermits. Eva Shan Chou describes the ending thus: “Chang’an is called into sudden existence, defined by a straight line from the poet’s unswerving heart. His intent, arrowlike, finds the shortest distance to its goal” (p.177).

    過洞庭湖

    蛟室圍青草
    龍堆隱白沙

    護堤盤古木
    迎棹舞神鴉

    破浪南風正
    回檣畏日斜

    湖光與天遠
    直欲泛仙槎

    23.45 [770]

    Crossing Lake Dongting

    Serpent’s lair, bounded by green grass
    Dragon’s mound, hidden beyond white sands

    Sheltering the dike, ancient trees circle
    Greeting the oar, spirit crows dance

    Shatter waves – south wind straight on
    Swing the mast – worry the sun falls

    Lake’s glimmer holds distant heaven
    Any moment now, floats Immortal Raft

    Notes

    Immortal Raft – upon which the Han explorer Zhang Qian (2nd cent. BC) was said to have sailed into the Milky Way – just like the fisherman in another story, referred to elsewhere. According to David Hinton, this poem was found carved on a rock where the Xiang River flowed into Lake Dongting, then was attributed to Du Fu. David McCraw notes that it is “generally accepted by scholars as genuine” (p.78).

    Bibliography

    • Sarah M. Allen, Paul W. Kroll, Christopher M. B. Nugent et al, eds. The Poetry of Du Fu [Translated and Edited by Stephen Owen]. De Gruyter, 2016. http://www.degruyter.com/view/product/246946
    • Kang-i Sun Chang & Stephen Owen, eds. The Cambridge history of Chinese literature. Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
    • Eva Shan Chou. Reconsidering Tu Fu: Literary Greatness and Cultural Context. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
    • Han Viet Tu Dien Trich Dan. Dictionary and language tools at www.hanviet.org.
    • David Hawkes. A Little Primer of Tu Fu. Oxford University Press, 1967.
    • David Hinton. The Selected Poems of Tu Fu. New Directions, 1989.
    • Charles Hucker. A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China. Stanford University Press, 1985.
    • William Hung. Tu Fu: China’s Greatest Poet. Harvard University Press, 1952.
    • David McCraw. Du Fu’s Laments from the South. University of Hawaii Press, 1992.
    • Stephen Owen. The Great Age of Chinese Poetry: The High T’ang. Yale University Press, 1981.
    • David K. Schneider. Confucian Prophet: Political Thought in Du Fu’s Poetry (752–757). Cambria Press, 2012.
    • Burton Watson. The Selected Poems of Du Fu. Columbia University Press, 2002.

    Some quotes on Du Fu


    I cannot claim to have fully understood Tu Fu, the poet. I believe I have a fairly accurate understanding of Tu Fu, the man. He appeared to be a filial son, an affectionate father, a generous brother, a faithful husband, a loyal friend, a dutiful official, and a patriotic subject. He was not only a good man, but also a wise one.

        --Willian Hung, Tu Fu: China’s Greatest Poet

    When the poet so frankly and so repeatedly places himself, one way or another, at the center of almost every poem, reader identification is a necessary first step in order to empathize with his approach. Collections of remarks on poetry echo with the voices of readers who both identified with the pathos of Tu Fu’s situation and admired the obduracy of his dedication. It seems that whatever one’s initial stance, in the end the constant reader of Tu Fu is brought to acknowledge the essential need for admiration and identification in order to read his poems.

        --Eva Shan Chou, Reconsidering Tu Fu: Literary Greatness and Cultural Context

    The magnificent sorrow of this threnody for dying nature [“Climbing High”] ends with Tu Fu’s remark that he has had to give up drinking. Whether the tone intended is fretful or, as I suspect, humorous ... it is hard not to find this ending uncomfortable. Yet Tu Fu does this sort of thing so often that one must look for something other than mere neurotic self-pity if one is to reach any sort of understanding with him at all.

    My own view is that Tu Fu’s famous compassion in fact includes himself, viewed quite objectively and almost as an afterthought. We can perhaps understand this poem if we think of a typical Chinese landscape with a tiny figure in one corner of it looking at the view. In this poem the little figure is Tu Fu himself, who, far from solipsistically shrinking the landscape to his own dimensions, lends grandeur to it by contrasting it with his own slightly comical triviality.

        --David Hawkes, A Little Primer of Tu Fu

    It is ironic to note that, as we get more remote from Du Fu’s time and historical traces, we seem to grow more certain we have reconstructed what he must have been like. Actually, I doubt that the Du Fu discussed in this book is much more than a textual construct.

        --David McCraw, Du Fu’s Laments from the South

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