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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Poem Written While Driving East on the GCP

Tonight just after
Passing Creedmoor
On my way out East
A flock of starlings
Dipped sharply into
The traffic flowing
Towards the Northern State
When the meanings all converged
And suddenly the car
Was a dynamo
A stick of dynamite
In my hands whose fuse
Was lit as I raced ahead

This poem was written in reply to DuFu's Song of a Madman, which I recently translated.  You can read my translation of DuFu's great poem by clicking here.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Fisherman's Song

The Fisherman's Song is an old prose poem in the form of a dialog that dates back to China's Warring States period (475 to 225 BC).  It is often attributed to the statesman Qu Yuan, although his authorship seems highly unlikely based on a common sense reading of the poem.  Qu Yuan was a much venerated figure in Chinese history as the embodiment of high-minded loyalty to the state.  He was a minister who endured exile while maintaining his loyalty to the emperor of the Kingdom of Chu.  According to historical legend, when the emperor failed to heed his advice and the Kingdom of Chu was eventually overrun by its rivals, Qu Yuan drowned himself by clutching a rock and wading into the Miluo River, as is foreshadowed in the fifth stanza of the poem.  His death is commemorated in the Dragon Boat Festival still celebrated in China today; but venerated as he may be, it's hard not to think that the old fisherman got the better of him in this dialog, as reflected in the final stanza.

Qu Yuan banished into exile
Roamed the shores of rivers and lakes
Singing his sorrowful songs
He grew listless and full of longing

One day he met an old fisherman
Who spoke to him and said:
You look like a great Imperial minister
What brings you wandering this way?

And Qu Yuan replied:
The whole world has been muddied
I alone remain clean
The flock of mankind swills its wine
I alone remain sober
So you see me here

 To which the old fisherman replied:
Would great sages be troubled thus?
Let the world go its own way
Let the people all be muddy
Each getting muddier still
They’ll be carried off on their own wave
Let the people all be drunken
Why not let them be sated
Drinking down to the dregs
Why trouble yourself
Over such lofty matters
Only to end up exiled
In such a remote place

And Qu Yuan answered:
I’ve heard it said that
When you’re freshly bathed
You must wrap yourself up
In clothes and a cap
So your body stays
Spotless and clean
But to accept things
As the river flows
How can that be?
I would rather end up adrift
And drowned in the river
Deep in the belly of a scaly beast
Content to find peace there
In that spotless white place
Than to lose myself in the world
Of dust and mud

The old fisherman smiled
Raised his oar aloft and laughed
Before finishing his song

When Tsang Lang’s waters are clean
Then I can wash my cap and gown
But when Tsang Lang’s waters
Run brown and muddy
Then I only rinse my toes
Whereupon the old fisherman
Spoke no more

漁父辭   屈原

屈原旣放 游於江潭
行吟澤畔 色憔悴 形容枯槁

漁父見而問之曰: 子非三閭大夫與? 何故至於斯?

屈原曰: 擧世皆濁 我獨. 衆人皆醉 我獨醒. 是以見放 

聖人 不凝滯於物 而能與世推移
世人皆濁 何不淈其泥 而揚其波?
衆人皆醉 何不飽其糟 而歠其醨?
何故深思高擧 自令放?

屈原曰 吾聞之 新沐者必彈冠 新浴者必振衣
安能以身之察察 受物之汶汶者乎?
寧赴湘流 葬於江魚之腹中 安能以皓皓之白 而蒙世俗之塵埃乎

漁父莞爾而笑 鼓枻而去 乃歌曰
滄浪之水 可以濯吾纓
滄浪之水濁兮 可以濯吾足

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Song of a Mad Man (by Du Fu)

I've just published a new issue of the Tang Spirit newsletter that explores the deep and abiding importance of reading the poetry of Du Fu in the Age of Trump.  Click here to sign up for your free copy of the newsletter if you're not already a subscriber.

And here's my translation of one of Du Fu's wonderful poems, called the Song of a Mad Man.  This poem was written in the midst of the An Lushan Rebellion, a time when the political situation was still in turmoil, forcing Du Fu and his family to travel into the southwestern hinterlands of the empire, in pursuit of safe haven from hardship and unrest. 

Over the west bridge
A thousand miles distant
There’s a small grass hut
Where a hundred flowers bloom
Alongside deep green waters
Just like Tsang Lang in fact

The wind stirs within
The bamboo grove giving it
A graceful green shudder
The red lotus flowers are laden
With raindrops which
Makes their fragrance
Disperse slowly

Old friends still immersed
In their worldly fortunes
Have fallen far out of touch
While living here amidst hunger
The young children always look
Wan and doleful

I’m full of longing
Like a deep ravine that
Remains wild and untrammeled
I laugh at myself
Such a mad old man
Growing madder still







Please click here to sign up for the Tang Spirit Newsletter is you'd like to learn more about the Song of a Mad Man and Du Fu's incredible poetry.