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Friday, October 23, 2015

Song of Myself (Tang Dynasty Edition)

More than a millennium before Walt Whitman wrote his famous Song of Myself, the great Tang poet Bai Juyi (白居易, 772 to 846) sat down and composed a much shorter poem by the same name.  This morning I had the chance to translate the Tang Dynasty version of the refrain as follows:

Song of Myself

Bai Juyi

With a white beard
And face mottled red
I’m either half drunk or
In the midst of a bender

A lifetime passes
Before you know it and
Everything turns out
To be empty anyway

Lying on a sickbed
A frail old minister
Yet still singing
Like a crazy old man

And even so I hear 
Those busybodies
Want to make me the subject 
Of their painted screens


白面微    醺醺半醉中
百年随手    万事
疾瘦居士    行歌狂老翁
好事者    将我画屏

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