Poem – Alone, Looking For Blossoms Along The River

The sorrow of riverside blossoms inexplicable,
And nowhere to complain — I’ve gone half crazy.
I look up our southern neighbor. But my friend in wine
Gone ten days drinking. I find only an empty bed.

A thick frenzy of blossoms shrouding the riverside,
I stroll, listing dangerously, in full fear of spring.
Poems, wine — even this profusely driven, I endure.
Arrangements for this old, white-haired man can wait.

A deep river, two or three houses in bamboo quiet,
And such goings on: red blossoms glaring with white!
Among spring’s vociferous glories, I too have my place:
With a lovely wine, bidding life’s affairs bon voyage.

Looking east to Shao, its smoke filled with blossoms,
I admire that stately Po-hua wineshop even more.
To empty golden wine cups, calling such beautiful
Dancing girls to embroidered mats — who could bear it?

East of the river, before Abbot Huang’s grave,
Spring is a frail splendor among gentle breezes.
In this crush of peach blossoms opening ownerless,
Shall I treasure light reds, or treasure them dark?

At Madame Huang’s house, blossoms fill the paths:
Thousands, tens of thousands haul the branches down.
And butterflies linger playfully — an unbroken
Dance floating to songs orioles sing at their ease.

I don’t so love blossoms I want to die. I’m afraid,
Once they are gone, of old age still more impetuous.
And they scatter gladly, by the branchful. Let’s talk
Things over, little buds —open delicately, sparingly.

Poem – Snow at Changsha

Out of the north the snow
Is assaulting Changsha:
Its clouds over Hunan go
(Where few snows are):
A myriad homes makes cold
Far borne on the gale
With scattered leaflets old
Where raindrops hail,
Not grown to flake-like flowers.

Empty of angels pale
Flaccid my purse.
Yet a silver pot may bail
Credit for wine.
No one to fetch it? Why then
I drain off the froth.
Must I wait again and again
Till the dizzy crows
Come home to their roosting bowers?

Poem – Newlywed’s Departure

Chinese vines climb up low hemp plants;
the tendrils cannot stretch very far.
To marry a daughter to a drafted man
is worse than abandoning her by roadside.
“I just did my hair up as a married woman,
haven’t even had time to warm the bed for you.
Marry in the evening and depart in the morning,
isn’t that too hurried!
You are not going very far,
just to guard the borders at Heyang,
but my status in the family is not yet official.
How can I greet my parents-in-laws?
When my parents brought me up,
they kept me in my room day and night.
When a daughter is married,
she has to stay even if she’s wed to a chicken or dog.
Now you are going to the place of death.
A heavy pain cramps my stomach.
I was determined to follow you wherever you went,
then realized that was not proper.
Please don’t be hampered by our new marriage;
try to be a good soldier.
When women get mixed up in an army,
I fear, the soldiers’ morale will falter.
I sigh, since I’m from a poor family
and it took so long to sew this silk dress.
I will never put this dress on again,
and I’m going to wash off my make-up while you watch.
Look at those birds flying up in the sky,
Big or small they stay in pairs,
but human life is full of mistakes and setbacks.
I will forever wait for your return.”

Poem – The Mocking Bird

What! Is the mocking bird come?
The Spring, he comes to say,
The Spring is here today.
All sounds, all words he knows.
His feathers preen how he will,
He is the same bird still.

Where flowers most thickly screen,
Difficult to be seen,
His varying notes deride
The topmost boughs between.
If out of time he chide.
Lo! slander at your side!

Poem – To Bi Sayao

Once stately figures in the art of rhyme,
Now sadly down at heels, our careers in ruin,
Regarded by our servants with disdain,
We are grown old and gray before our time.
Yet in your joyful, carefree company,
The most consoling thought occurs to me:
Though we are doomed to poverty and strife,
Our poems shall have a long and prosperous life.

Poem – Dreaming of Li Po

After the separation of death one can eventually swallow back
one’s grief, but
the separation of the living is an endless, unappeasable anxiety.
From
pestilent Chiang-nan no news arrives of the poor exile. That my
old friend
should come into my dream shows how constantly he is in my
thoughts. I fear
that this is not the soul of a living man: the journey is so
immeasurably far.
When your soul left, the maple woods were green: on its return
the passes were
black with night. Lying now enmeshed in the net of the law,
how did you find
wings with which to fly here? The light of the sinking moon illumines
every
beam and rafter of my chamber, and I half expect it to light up your face.
The
water is deep, the waves are wide: don’t let the water-dragons get you.

All day long the floating clouds drift by, and still the wanderer
has not
arrived! For three nights running I have repeatedly dreamed of you.
Such
affectionate concern on your part shows your feelings for me!
Each time you
said goodbye you seemed so uneasy. It isn't easy to come',
you would say
bitterly;
The waters are so rough. I am afriad the boat will capsize!’.
Going
out of my door you scratched your white head as if your whole life’s ambition
had been frustrated.
The Capital is full of new officials, yet a man like this is so wretched!
Who is going to tell me that the `net is wide’ when this ageing man
remains in difficulties? Imperishable renown is cold comfort when you can only
enjoy it in the tomb!

Poem – Old Couple’s Departure

The four outskirts are not yet safe and quiet,
I am old, but have no peace.
All my sons and grandsons died in battle;
it’s no use to keep my body alone in one piece.
Throwing away my walking stick, I walk out the door.
The other soldiers are saddened, pitying me.
I’m lucky to still have all my teeth
but I regret the marrow has dried in my bones.
Wearing a soldier’s helmet and armor,
I salute my officers before departure.
My old wife is lying in the road weeping.
The year is late and her clothes thin.
Though I know at heart this is our death-farewell,
her shivering in cold still hurts me.
I know I will never come back,
yet hear her out when she says, “Eat more!”
The city wall around Earth Gate is very strong,
and the Xingyuan ferry is hard for the enemy to cross,
so the situation is different from the siege of Ye City,
and I will have some time before I die.
In life we part and we rejoin;
we have no choice, young or old.
I recall my young and strong days,
and walk about with long sighs.
War has spread through ten thousand countries
till beacon fires blaze from all the peaks.
So many corpses that grass and trees stink like fish,
rivers and plains dyed red with blood.
Which land is the happy land?
How can I linger here!
I abandon my thatched house
and feel my liver and lungs collapse.

Poem – Looking At Mountain Tai

How is Mountain Tai?
Its green is seen beyond State Qi and State Lu,
a distillation of creation’s spirit and beauty.
Its slopes split day into Yin and Yang.
Its rising clouds billow in my chest.
Homecoming birds fly through my wide-open eyes.
I should climb to the summit
and in one glance see all other mountains dwarfed.

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 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.

Poem – Lone Wild Goose

Alone, the wild goose refuses food and drink,
his calls searching for the flock.

Who feels compassion for that single shadow
vanishing in a thousand distant clouds?

You watch, even as it flies from sight,
its plaintive calls cutting through you.

The noisy crows ignore it:
the bickering, squabbling multitudes.

Poem – A Woman of Quality

Matchless in breeding and beauty,
a fine lady has taken refuge
in this forsaken valley.
She is of good family, she says,
but her fortune has withered away;
now she lives as the grass and trees.
When the heartlands fell to the rebels
her brothers were put to death;
birth and position availed nothing–
she was not even allowed
to bring home their bones for burial.
The world turns quickly against
those who have had their day–
fortune is a lamp-flame
flickering in the wind.
Her husband is a fickle fellow
who has a lovely new woman.
Even the vetch-tree is more constant,
folding its leaves every dusk,
and mandarin ducks
always sleep with their mates.
But he has eyes only
for his new woman’s smile,
and his ears are deaf
to his first wife’s weeping.
High in the mountains
spring water is clear as truth,
but when it reaches the lowlands
it is muddied with rumor.
Her serving-maid returns
from selling her pearls;
she drags a creeper over
to cover holes in the roof.
The flowers the lady picks
are not for her hair,
and the handfuls of cypress
are a bitter stay against hunger.
Her pretty blue sleeves
are too thin for the cold;
as evening falls
she leans on the tall bamboo.

Poem – Morning Rain

A slight rain comes, bathed in dawn light.
I hear it among treetop leaves before mist
Arrives. Soon it sprinkles the soil and,
Windblown, follows clouds away. Deepened

Colors grace thatch homes for a moment.
Flocks and herds of things wild glisten
Faintly. Then the scent of musk opens across
Half a mountain — and lingers on past noon.

Poem – Full Moon

Above the tower — a lone, twice-sized moon.
On the cold river passing night-filled homes,
It scatters restless gold across the waves.
On mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.

Empty peaks, silence: among sparse stars,
Not yet flawed, it drifts. Pine and cinnamon
Spreading in my old garden . . . All light,
All ten thousand miles at once in its light!

Poem – Advent of Spring

The city has fallen: only the hills and rivers remain.
In Spring the streets were green with grass and trees.
Sorrowing over the times, the flowers are weeping.
The birds startled my heart in fear of departing.
The beacon fires were burning for three months,
A letter from home was worth ten thousand pieces of gold.
I scratch the scant hairs on my white head,
And vainly attempt to secure them with a hairpin.

Poem – Day’s End

Oxen and sheep were brought back down

Long ago and bramble gates closed over

Mountains and rivers far from my old garden

A windswept moon rises into clear night.
Springs trickle down dark cliffs and autumn

Dew fills ridgeline grasses my hair seems

Winter in lamplight. The flame flickers

Good fortune over and over and for what