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PoetryReadings_LiPo - LI PO AND TU FU E E POEMS SELECTED...

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Unformatted text preview: LI PO AND TU FU E E POEMS SELECTED AND TL‘RANSLATED E WITH AN INTRODUCTION AND NQTES ; BY 1 . ARTHUR COOPER 5 i L CHINESE CALLIGRAPHY I BY . SHUI CHIEN—TUNG § 3 i. i I i 1 E E s E i S ? é E PENGUIN BOOKS bestowed on maturity). ‘Eyebrow Fell’ is the sacred O—mei mountain to the south in Shu. ‘The Strong Men’ were five heroes ofShu sent in legend to the King ofCh’in to bring back his five beautiful daughters for the harem of the King of Shu. On the way back, they saw the tail of a great serpent protrud— ing from a cave and all seized it and Pulled, until after a long struggle they at last dragged the creature out; whereupon the great mountain split open with terrible earthquakes, leaving the wild rugged country you will find there now. The Sun rides in a chariot drawn by a team of Six Dragons, and high in these western mountains is the signpost where he turns away on his journey at the end of the day. The Sword or Dagger Pass, or ‘Pass of the Sabre’, is in the mountains between Ch’in and Shu, and ‘No Friend’ means both an outlaw and a supemamral fiend. Ch’eng-tu, or the Brocade City, is the capital of Szechwan (Shu) on the Brocade River; so called from a legend of a pious lady who washed in it the filthy robe of a Buddhist monk who had had the mis» fortune to fall into a dunghill. No sooner had she dipped the robe into the water than the river filled with bright flowers; which is said to be the origin of the industry of making lovely silk brocades, that continues in the district to this day. The last line of the poem makes the gesture familiar in Chinese mime of a half—turn and a sigh. It is not made explicit whether the poet continues the journey or turns back. 132 THE BALLAD OF YU—CHANG A Tartar wind blows on Tai horses Thronging northward through the Lu~yang Gap: Wu cavalry like snowflakes seaward Riding westward know of no return, Where as they ford the Shang—liao shallows A yellow cloud stares faceless on them; An old mother parting from her son M i Calls on Heaven in the wild grasses, The white horses round flags and banners, Sadly she keens and Clasps him to her: ‘ “Poor white poplar in the autumn moon, Soon it was felled on the Yii~chang Hills” —— You were ever a peaceful scholar, ' - You were not trained to kill and capture!’ 'How can you weep for death in battle, To free. our Prince from stubborn bandits? Given pure will, stones swallow feathers, How can you speak of fearing dangers? 6Our towered ships look like flying whales Where the squalls race on Fallen Star Lake: This song you sing — if you sing loudly, Three armies’ hair will streak, too, with grey!’ In the original ‘Ballad of Yii—chang' of about the second or third century, a white poplar is felled to become a pillar for the Imperial Palace; where it sings a song of farewell to its leaves and branches left on the hillside.* *Arthur Waley, at the beginning of the Introduction to his transla— tion of The Book of Songs (see Introduction to this book, p. 45), makes the observation: ‘Early Chinese songs do not as a rule introduce a 133 The Tai horses were a breed, largely of greys, from the Tartar borderlands of North China: there is an implication in ‘blows’ of blowing a trumpet, summoning them homeward. The action of the poem is in Wu, South China, by the great Poyang Lake in Kiangsi of which ‘Fallen Star Lake’ is part. The poem must have been written in 757, when the Glorious Monarch’s sixteenth son, the Prince of Lin gathered a fleet in this neighbourhood, ostensibly to fight An LUvshan’s rebels but in fact also with personal ambitions to seize the throne himself. Li Po, unaware of this, joined him enthusiastically, suddenly convinced in his fifty-seventh year that military prowess had been his great hidden talent for serving the Empire all along. For this, when the Prince's treason was exposed and his feeble attempt at a coup crushed, the poet was later con- demned to death; the sentence was commuted to banishment, on the way from which he died after a pardon. Yii—chang was the home of his last, fourth, wife who is therefore given the role of the old woman singing the Yii- Chang ballad as he goes off to war; but, by the usual convention, the poem is imagined as in the Han dynasty. ‘Given pure will, stones swallow feathers’ is an allusion to the great scourge of the Hum, Li Kuang (d. 125 B.C.), whom they called ‘The Flying General’ and whom Li Po claimed as an ancestor. This General, drunk one night, saw in the grass near his tent what he took to be a crouching tiger. He drew his bow with all his might and shot it. Next morning he found that it was only a white stone; but that his arrow had gone through it, feathers and all! He then tried, soberly and unsuccessfully, to repeat the feat. comparison with ”as if” or “like", but state it on the same footing as the facts they narrate’; and he quotes a Polish song which seems to have much in common with the old ‘Ballad onii-chang’ sung by the ’ mother in Li Po’s poem: They have cut the little oak, they have hewn it; It is no longer green. They have taken away my lover, Have taken him to the wars. 134 The old man’s dream of military glory, assisted by the bottle, and his unwitting attachment to the forces of a thoroughly disreputable minor rebellion, were pathetic; but the poem that his imagination made, with its yellow and grey wintry scene, has a quite different kind of pathos: a poem against war, com- passionate to all men and women. 135 ‘WE FOUGHT SOUTH OF THE WALLS ...’ Last year we made war for the Mulberry Brook’s springs, This year we make war for the Garlic Stream’s bed, We have washed our strds in Antioch’s waves, ~\li/‘e have grazed our mounts on the Pamirs’ snows, For thousands of miles our expeditions go Till the Three Armies’ men are worn and old, But the Huns look on killing like tilling their fields, White bones all they grow on their yellow sands! House of Ch’in built the Wall to keep them apart, House of Han has to keep the beacons alight, Beacons alight and they never go out For these expeditions have never an end: In the line, hand to hand, they’ll die the same, The horses will fall, call to Heaven their pain, The crows and the kites pick their riders9 guts And fly to dead trees with the bits in their beaks . . . Where Captains and Men paint the grasses red Our General’s without a plan in his head: You surely know war’s an ill—omened tool That never was used except by a fool? ‘We fought (for the) South of the Walls, we died (for the) North of the (Earth). Works’ is the beginning of a Han dynasty ballad translated by Arthur Waley, ‘Fighting South of the Ramparts’, in his Chinese Poems (1946). Many other poems were called after it in later ages. The tune, probably lost even by Li Po's time, was one of ‘Eighteen Airs for Songs to Pan- pipes and Cymbals’ listed by the original Han Academy of Music (see note on p. 32); and the opening lines quoted are 152. typical of dance—songs the world over in having no more precise meaning than, say, Tennyson’s ‘Cannon to right of them . . .’ The line was so famous, however, that an ancient scholastic work gave it a mystical meaning: the Imperial City (the same word as for wall) was at the exact median point between Heaven, symbolized by the South towards which the throne faced, and Earth, symbolized by the North; the Emperor having the divine mandate to mediate between the two! ‘Brook’ and ‘stream’ in the first two lines are rather free (the Mulberry River is in the far N orth—west and the Garlic River is the Pamir River), but Li Po seems to mean the names to sound trivial and absurd. ‘Antioch’s waves’ meant, at least in Han times when the poem is by convention set, the Mediter— ranean itself. To Li Po, however, it may have suggested both somewhere very remote, like ‘Timbuctoo’, and the name of another place similarly transcribed into Chinese, in the Far West of his own birth. The Pamirs in the translation stand inaccurately for the Tim Shan, Celestial Mountains, which now divide Chinese from Soviet Turkestan. The Huns, in Chinese Hsiung—nu which may be cognate with our name, were a warlike, nomadic people of Central Asia, similar in way of life though probably not exactly the same as the Hunnish tribes who invaded Europe in the fifth century. The Wall is, of course, the Great Wall, about 1,500 miles long (or twice that, with all its twists and branches) and mostly first built in the Ch’in dynasty, third century B.C., by forced labour including political prisoners. The beacons were a sign of a state of war: their failure to light at ordained times indicated that a post had fallen to the enemy. The crying horse and the carrion crows are details of the old ballad, but Li Po gives them a Goya—like horror even greater in his own visual and compact language. The reader may find it ' ing to compare this anti-war poem with Tu Fu’s o . 167, as well as with another of Li Po’s own owecuve as both of Li Po’s poems are in making vivid e cruelty of war, neither can really be described I53 as a ‘political poem’ as neither suggests any positive policy. This one may vaguely advocate a ‘Maginot Line’ policy; but for all its strength of language it is politically rather incoherent, compared with Tu Fu’s anti-war poems which pointed to particular scandals or errors in policy about which something could and should be done. One clear point ofpolicy, however, the two poets certainly had in common: disapproval of the *' expansionist policies that the dynasty was beginning to pursue and which led, in 75 I, to a disastrous defeat of Chinese armies by the Persians and Arabs; and indirectly to the weakening of the central, civil power. ‘The Three Armies’, in this poem and in that on p. I 3 3, is an ancient expression for massive forces: it has been used currently in a poem by Mao Tse~tung. The last coupler is from the Book of Lao Tzu, or Tao Te Ching, the oldest and greatest of the Taoist Classics (translated by D. C. Lau, Penguin Books, 1963). 154 0N SEEING CUCKoo FLOWERS AT HSUAN-CH’ENG In Shu Land I have heard what the cuckoo calls, At Hsiian—ch’eng I have seen the cooked flowers once more: Let him call once, but once, at once my heart will break, For the Spring thrice, Moon thrice, and thrice for San-pa! The Chinese cuckoo is particularly associated with Szechwan (Shu Land), an exiled Prince of which was in legend turned into one so that he might return each year (like Proserpine). Its call is heard by the Chinese as ‘(it’s best to) go home!’ - '(pu ju) kuei ch’ii’, in which the ‘kuei ch’ii' in Li Po’s day would have sounded ‘kui k’ii’ in tones that matched well the cuckoo’s notes. (Readers may have observed that these notes also give an extraordinarily good ‘homing': one can turn at once to the point they come from.) The cuckoo to the Chinese is therefore the bird of homesickness. The cuckoo flowers are a kind of spotted azaleas, also associated with Szechwan; the home of rhododendrons and azaleas whence they came originally to the West. Hsiian- ch’eng, where Li P0 was, is in Anhwoi province, far from Szechwan; so that the sight of azaleas there moved him to write this little song, which is like a cuckoo’s call itself: many of his poems areas natural in the original as birdsong. “Moon thrice’, besides being like ‘three cheers for the Moon’ (and Spring and San-pa in Szechwan), means the third month, that is, April in the Chinese calendar; the cuckoo’s month. Chinese poets, as we have seen, are very fond of making expressions mean two or more thing's at once: a quality of all poetry, to which their language is well suited. I55 u was}? THE BALLAD OF THE ARMY WAGGONS The din of waggonsl Whinnying horses! Each marcher at his waist has how and quiver; Old people, children, wives, running alongside, Who cannot see, for dust, bridge over river: They clutch clothes, stamp their feet, bar the way weeping, Weeping their voices rise to darkening Heaven; And when the passers—by question the marchers, The marchers but reply, ‘Levies come often: ‘They take us at fifteen for up the river, To garrison the West, they'll take at forty, Your Headman has at first to tie your turban, Grey—headed you come home, then back to duty -— ‘The blood that’s flowed out there would make a sea, Sir! _ ' Our Lord, his lust for land knows no degree, Sir! But have you not heard Of House of Han, its East two hundred regions Where villages and farms are growing brambles? ‘That though a sturdy wife may take the plough, Sir, You can’t see where the fields begin and end, Sir? That Highlanders fare worst. they’re hardy fighters And so they’re driven first, like dogs and chickens? V ‘Although you, Sir, ask such kind questions, Dare the conscripts tell their wretchedness? How, for instance, only last winter The Highland troops were still in the line When their Prefect sent urgent demands, Demands for tax, I ask you, from where? 167 So now we know, no good having sons, Always better to have a daughter: - For daughters will be wed to our good neighbours When sons are lying dead on Steppes unburied! ‘But have you not seen On the Black Lake’s shore The white bones there of old no one has gathered, Where new ghosts cry aloud, old ghosts are bitter, Rain drenching from dark clouds their ghostly chatter?’ Though sometimes translated as ‘The Ballad of the Army Chariots’, this would be an anachronism by about 1,100 years: cavalry was introduced, replacing chariots in war, about 350 3.0.; and this poem is dated towards the end of the year A.D. 750. It is one of several famous poems, and is probably the most famous, written by Tu Fu about this time against war and particularly against the scandals of press—gauging methods of recruitment; some of which were illegal, like making men do more than one period of national service such as is implied in this poem. Tu Fu, when he later became a local Commissioner of Education (ajob he found most frustrating, and hated), had to set examination questions to test local candidates for higher education and then higher civil service posts; and among the questions he set was one about recruitment for national defence, and how the candidate would take account of the needs of agriculture. The concern felt by Tu Pu, in contrast with Li Po, for such practical matters has already been men- v-tioned in the note on p. I 54 to the latter’s famous 'We Fought South of the Walls”. Like Li Po, Tu Fu has followed the convention of setting his poem in the Han dynasty (‘Our Lord, his lust for land' refers to the great conquering Emperor, Han Wu-ti, who reigned from 140 to 87 B.c.). He has also written it in the ton- ally ‘free ’ metres of the old ballads, with their kind of language 168 and such devices as concatenation; as in ‘. . . bar the way weep- ing/Weeping their voices rise . . .’. But, unlike Li Po, Tu Fu had no ancient model, and both title and poem are entirely of his own creation. Tu Fu starts his poem with a six—syllable line, a practice common in ballads with an effect like a fanfare, before breaking into the seven—syllable metre; the syntax of which, more than anything else, gives the original a marching rhythm. This, which could easily become merely monotonous, is interrupted by insertion of formulaic phrases, in the old ballad style, like ‘But have you not heard . . .?’ Such phrases point up as well as break the main rhythm, rather like the exclamations in ‘hot— gospelling’ services; as also does the passage of recitative, out of the main metre, from ‘Although you, Sir’ to ‘Always better to have a daughter’, before the marching rhythm is returned to. These lines have the effect of being urgent and confiden- tial, not to be overheard; and the resumed marching then seems fatalistic. ‘Highland’ translates the high plateau of Ch’in (see note on p. 131), the modern province of Shensi, Tu Fu’s own province and the area round the then capital, Ch’ang—an which is now Sian—fu. It is typical of Tu Fu to be concerned about the way the families of these soldiers, traditionally the best in the Empire, were being donned for tax while their men were away at the front. He may also have been worried, as there was good cause to be later, about the depletion of the defences around the capital, The Black (or Dark Blue) Lake is Kokonor, the great salt lake more than 10,000 feet above sea—level in Northern Tibet. There were campaigns here as well as ‘up the river' (the Yellow River) in 750.* But, as with Li Po, the mention of such distant places also implied militaristic policies of a dangerous kind; which indeed they proved to be, most of all through the power they allowed the generals to acquire within the nation. *Kokonor and the upper reaches of the Yellow River are mentioned in many poems of the time, as scenes of incessant fighting; rather like the North—west Frontier of India in our Imperial days. 159 Tu Fu may have thought of the old ghosts, at the end of the poem, as those of the Han dynasty in which it is fictionally set; but the new ghosts as those of yesterday and today: with a hint of the ultimate fate of the Han dynasty, when it gave way to warlordism which was followed by nearly four centuries of short-lived dynasties, some of them foreign, ruling the different parts of a divided empire. His chilling, atmospheric ending is characteristic. In the present century Mr Shui's father, a mining engineer working in this area, used wherever he could to pay to have the white bones still to be found there properly buried by the locals; who regarded him as rather eccentric for doing so, claiming that some at least were only those of yaks and camels. 17° LOOKING AT THE SPRINGTIME In fallen States hills and streams are found, Cities have Spring, grass and leaves abound; Though at such times flowers might drop tears, Parting from mates, birds have hidden fears: The beacon fires have now linked three moons, Making home news worth ten thousand coins; An old grey head scratched at each mishap _ Has dwindling hair, does'not fit its cap! This is a sonnet, in the same syllabic metre as the pair of sonnets on p. 163, though rhymed in the translation and also differently written out. It was composed by Tu Fu in the enemy-occupied capital, Ch’ang—an, during the spring of 757, when the city was filled with the Tartar troops of the rebel Central Asian general An Lu-shan. (Lu-shall, his personal name, in modem Cantonese Lek-sen, is related to that of Alexander the Great's wife Roxana, who was a Bactrian.) The reign of the Glorious Monarch, Ming Huang or Hsiian Tsung (born 685, reigned 713—56, died 762), had begun with his seeming a model of Confucian puritanism and , rectitudc. Administration, communications and education were all improved beyond any precedent; the arts and sciences were 171 This is, of course, mere conjecture; but it would not he un- characteristic of To Fu to express his adventure so laconically; just as he seems not to have told of his other adventure, his original capture, at all. The autobiographical nature of Tu Fu’s poems tends to disguise the fact that they were all first and foremost poems. His View of poetry, in the Confucian tradi- tion, was wider than ‘art for art's sake’; but, within his wider concept, it was still poetry for poetry's sake. 182 FROM THE JOURNEY NORTH: THE HOMECOMING Slowly, slowly we tramped country tracks, With cottage smoke rarely on their winds: Of those we met, many suffered wounds Still oozing blood, and they moaned aloud! I turned my head back to Feng-hsiang’s camp, Flags still flying in the fading light; Climbing onward in the cold hills’ folds, Found here and there where cavalry once drank; Till, far below, plains of Pinwchou sank, Ching’s swift torrent tearing them in two; And ‘Before us the wild tigers stood’, Had rent these rocks every time they roared: Autumn daisies had begun to nod Among crushed stones waggons once had passed; To the great sky then my spirit soared, That secret things still could give me joy! Mountain berries, tiny, trifling gems Growing tangled among scattered nuts, Were some ...
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