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Chinese Poems: Translated By Jonathan Graves


ISSUE:  Spring 1978

Su Shi Su Tung-P’o (1037—1101)

MID-AUTUMN MOON

Like an old friend,     last year’s moon     floats up     east of the city. Haggard, depressed,     the same man I was last year, I lie by the broken window. But the moon comes looking for me; her lovely beams slip into the room. How did the moon know I was sick? —She must have seen     that the tower of songs         was empty . . .

So I stroke my pillow,     sigh three times and stand up, cane in hand, to follow the moon. The wind takes no pity on me— it sweeps me straight to the Jasper Palace. White dew fills my lungs and I chirp poems     like an insect in the autumn night. At first I am a romantic Li Po, but soon I change into a suffering Meng Chiao. How many years do I have left? How many more beautiful moons will I see? And the fish—they can’t sleep either; all night they breathe on each other     in the cold water.

    (Translated on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, 1973)

Yüan Hung-tao (1568—1610)

TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF THE SEVENTH MONTH

A Memory Returned to Me and I Wrote     This Down

Foggy moon, bird-calls in the flowers at dawn, in cold willow branches, orioles trembled on the edge of     dream, The words, “Love Each Other,” were written on the pillow, and heavy incense curled from behind the curtains.

Her emotion had the lucidity of calm waters— red color came to her cheeks as she smiled! Back turned to the lamp, she removed her damp nightgown and asked her lover to gather up her earrings. Their tears of parting moistened the fragrant quilt, tenderness of love, fragile as the wings of the cicada! With silver tongs she stirred the ashes in the brazier and traced these words: “As Long as the Sky . . .” Lanterns hung from each story of the building: the red railing of the balcony gave on the avenue below.

This was the arena of our love that year— now I see only a tomb, overgrown with grass. From the roots of the maples, I hear the whispering of a ghost bearing the traces of her southern voice. The stagnant waters of this woman’s parted soul have been swept into rain over a mountain I do not know.

Yüan Hung-too

PEI-MANG CEMETERY

Old pine trees, their shaggy manes     twirled in a dance by the wind;

row on row of tombs, one wisp of smoke     rising from nowhere.

The lords and princes who once lived     along Bronze Camel Avenue

have become the dust that settles on the traveler’s face,

The white poplar on top of the mountain     has turned into an old woman

who spends each night in the fields,     chasing away tigers of stone,

Officials come to this place, face north     toward the Mausoleum of Longevity,

and give thanks that the crows who perch here     speak Chinese.

Yttan Hung-tao

I GET UP FROM MY SICKBED AND SIT BY MYSELF

The wild grass—green and misty; has there ever been an autumn which did not bring pain? This sick man’s house has no visitors— even my little dog sleeps all day, I must look in books for things to use in poems; no money for wine to warm me up, I put on extra clothes. The door shut, I read Chuang Tzu: the chapters on Horses’ Hoofs and The Floods of Autumn.

Yüan Hung-tao

ON HEARING THAT A GIRL OF THE TS’UI FAMILY HAS BECOME A DISCIPLE OF THE BUDDHIST MASTER WU-NIEN—PLAYFULLY OFFERED TO THE MASTER

She has cut off her conch-shell hairdo,     thrown away her eyebrow pencil;

one indulgence remains—a single cup of tea.

Her sandal-wood clappers now accompany     Sanskrit chanting;

her silk dress has been recut:     a makeshift cassock.

Her mind is like quiet water     reflecting the moon.

Her body is a cold forest     still putting forth blossoms.

How many times can you remember     the hand of ordination         on her brow?

Generation after generation,     life after life     spent in Buddhist temples.

Yüan Hung-tao

A RECORD OF MY TRIP TO MOUNT SHÊ

Height after height of strange mountain scenes,

new words, new ideas in our conversation.

Wild pines blow in the wind like hanging manes;

the ancient rocks are covered with mottled scales.

I enter the temple, seek the dream-realm of the monks,

thumb through sutras, feel the dustiness     of this traveler’s life.

You, the Zen master, I, a lover of wine—

we are brothers, way beyond     the people of the world.

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