Poem – A Homeless Man’s Departure

After the Rebellion of 755, all was silent wasteland,
gardens and cottages turned to grass and thorns.
My village had over a hundred households,
but the chaotic world scattered them east and west.
No information about the survivors;
the dead are dust and mud.
I, a humble soldier, was defeated in battle.
I ran back home to look for old roads
and walked a long time through the empty lanes.
The sun was thin, the air tragic and dismal.
I met only foxes and raccoons,
their hair on end as they snarled in rage.
Who remains in my neighborhood?
One or two old widows.
A returning bird loves its old branches,
how could I give up this poor nest?
In spring I carry my hoe all alone,
yet still water the land at sunset.
The county governor’s clerk heard I’d returned
and summoned me to practice the war-drum.
This military service won’t take me from my state.
I look around and have no one to worry about.
It’s just me alone and the journey is short,
but I will end up lost if I travel too far.
Since my village has been washed away,
near or far makes no difference.
I will forever feel pain for my long-sick mother.
I abandoned her in this valley five years ago.
She gave birth to me, yet I could not help her.
We cry sour sobs till our lives end.
In my life I have no family to say farewell to,
so how can I be called a human being?

Poem – Song of Lovely Woman

Third day, third month festival,
and the air fresh with spring;
beside Serpentine Lake in Chang’an,
many lovely women stroll.
Their appearance is elegant,
their thoughts lofty and refined,
their complexions delicate,
figures in perfect proportion.
Their embroidered silk gowns
glisten with spring light;
golden peacocks and beasts of silver
strut upon the fabric.
What is it that they wear
upon their heads?
Jeweled headbands with kingfisher feathers,
dangling to their hairlines.
And what is it that we see
upon their backs?
Pearl-studded overskirts
drawn tight at the waist.
Among them are kin of the Pepper-flower Chamber with its cloud-patterned curtains-
the Duchesses of Guo and Qin,
honored with the names of nations!

A great roast of purple camel hump
rises from a green cauldron,
and crystal plates gleam
with heaps of white-scaled fish.
But the rhinoceros horn chopsticks,
long-sated, are slow to descend,
and the belled knife-handles
dance vainly above the roast.
The flying steeds of the eunuchs
hardly stir the dust,
as they bear in eight exotic dishes
from the Imperial Kitchens.

Poem – View From A Height

Sharp wind, towering sky, apes howling mournfully;
untouched island, white sand, birds flying in circles.
Infinite forest, bleakly shedding leaf after leaf;
inexhaustible river, rolling on wave after wave.
Through a thousand miles of melancholy autumn, I travel;
carrying a hundred years of sickness, I climb to this terrace.
Hardship and bitter regret have frosted my temples–
and what torments me most? Giving up wine!

Poem – The Pitiful Young Prince

Hooded crows fly at night
over the walls of Chang’an,
uttering harsh cries
above Welcoming Autumn Gate,
then head for people’s houses,
pecking at the lofty roofs,
roofs beneath which high officials
scurry to escape barbarians.
The golden whip is broken in two,
the nine horses are run to death,*
but it is still not possible
for all of royal blood to flee together…

In plain sight below his waist
a precious ornament of blue coral,
the pitiful prince stands weeping
at the corner of the road.
When I ask, he refuses to tell
either name or surname;
he only speaks of his desperation,
and begs to become my slave.
For a hundred days now
he has lain hidden in brambles;
there is no whole skin left
on his entire body.
But the sons and grandsons of Gao-zu
all have the same noses-
the dragon-seed, naturally,
differs from that of ordinary men.

Jackals and wolves in the city,
dragons lurking in the wilds,
the prince had better take care
of that thousand-tael body!*
I don’t dare talk long here
in plain view by the crossroads,
but for the sake of my prince
I will stay for a moment.
Last night the east wind
blew in the stench of blood,
and camels from the east
filled the former Capital.*
The Shuo-fang veterans
were known as skilled warriors,
they always seemed so fierce,
but now how foolish they look!
It is rumored that the Son of Heaven
has already abdicated,
but also that the Khan
is lending his support,
that the men of Hua gashed their faces
and begged to wipe out this disgrace.
Say nothing! Someone else
may be hiding and listening.
Alas, Prince, you must be careful,
stay on guard,
and may the spirits of the Five Tombs*
watch over you always.

Poem – The Eight Formation

Your achievements overshadowed
any in the Three Kingdoms;
most famous of all was your design
for the Eight Formations.

Against the river’s surge,
they stand solid, immovable,
a monument to your lasting regret
at failing to swallow up Wu.

Poem – Rain

Roads not yet glistening, rain slight,
Broken clouds darken after thinning away.
Where they drift, purple cliffs blacken.
And beyond — white birds blaze in flight.

Sounds of cold-river rain grown familiar,
Autumn sun casts moist shadows. Below
Our brushwood gate, out to dry at the village
Mill: hulled rice, half-wet and fragrant.

Poem – No Sight

Li Bai, no sight of you for a long time,
It’s tragic that you pretend to be insane.
The whole world wants to kill you.
I alone treasure your talent.
Quick-minded, improvising thousands of poems,
you roam like a falling leaf for a cup of wine.
You studied here at Kuang Mountain
and it’s time to return, now that your hair is white.

Poem – By The Lake

The old fellow from Shao-ling weeps with stifled sobs as he walks furtively by the bends of the Sepentine on a day in spring.
In the waterside palaces the thousands of doors are locked. For whom have the willows and rushed put on their fresh greenery?

I remember how formerly, when the Emperor’s rainbow banner made its way into the South Park, everything in the park seemed to bloom with a brighter color. The First Lady of the Chao-yang Palace rode in the same carriage as her lord in
attendance at his side, while before the carriage rode maids of honour equipped with bows and arrows, their white horses champing at golden bits.
Leaning back, face skywards, they shot into the clouds; and the Lady laughed gaily when a bird fell to the ground transfixed by a well-aimed arrow.
Where are the bright eyes and the flashing smile now?
Tainted with blood-pollution, her wandering soul cannot make its way back.
The clear waters of the Wei flow eastwards, and Chien-ko is far away: between the one who has gone and the one who remains no communication is possible.
It is human to have feelings and shed tears for such things; but the grasses and flowers of the lakeside go on for ever, unmoved.
As evening falls, the city is full of the dust of foreign horseman. My way is towards the South City, but my gaze turns northward. (tr. Hawkes)

Poem – Restless Night

As bamboo chill drifts into the bedroom,
Moonlight fills every corner of our
Garden. Heavy dew beads and trickles.
Stars suddenly there, sparse, next aren’t.

Fireflies in dark flight flash. Waking
Waterbirds begin calling, one to another.
All things caught between shield and sword,
All grief empty, the clear night passes.