Red Cliffs I. – Su Shih

First Prose Poem On The Red Cliffs

In the autumn of 1082, on the 16th of the seventh month, Master Su and his guests sailed in a boat below the Red Cliffs. Clear wind blew gently, the water was calm. The boaters raised their wine and poured for each other, reciting “The Bright Moon” and singing “The Lovely One.”
After a while, the moon rose above the eastern mountain, and hovered between the Dipper and the Cowherd star. White mist lay across the water; the light from the water reached the sky. They went where their tiny boat took them, floating on a thousand leagues of haze, in the vastness as if resting on emptiness and riding the wind, not knowing where they would stop, floating as if they had left the earth and stood alone, having turned into birds and become immortal. And so they drank and their joy reached its height, and they sang beating on the side of the boat. The song went:

Cassia oars and orchid paddles
Beat the illusory moon,
Rowing against the flow of streaming light.
From a great distance my heart
Yearns for my beloved at one end of the sky.

Among the guests there was one who played the flute, and he played along with their song. The sound of his flute mourned, as if grieving as if loving, as if weeping as if reproaching. Its sound echoed and lingered, not breaking as if a silken thread. It set to dancing the dragon submerged in a deep crevice, and brought to tears the widow in the lonely boat.

Master Su sobered himself, and straightening his collar sat upright. He asked the guest: “Why did you play like that?” The guest replied, “‘The moon is bright, the stars, sparse. The crows and magpies fly south,’ aren’t these the words from Cao Cao’s poem? Looking west towards Xiakou, East towards Wuchang, with the mountains and rivers entwining each other, densely green — isn’t this the place where Cao was beseiged by Zhou Yu? Cao had just broken Jingzhou, and was going to Jiangling, sailing west with the flow of the river. His boats prow to stern stretched for a thousand miles, and his flags and banners blocked the sky. Pouring wine, looking down on the river, chanting poems with a spear across his knees, he was indeed a hero of his times; but today, where is he? And how about you and I, fishermen and woodcutters on the islets in the river, taking the fish and shrimp and deer as our companions, and riding in a leaf of a boat, raising gourds as our goblets and drinking to each other? Entrusted like flies to heaven and earth, as tiny as one grain in a vast ocean. I grieve at my life’s shortness, and envy how the Great River is infinite. I want to fly with the immortals and roam the vastness, embrace the moon and live forever. I know that I cannot quickly achieve this, and I entrusted these sounds to the sad wind.”

Master Su said, “Do you know the water and moon? The one flows on, and yet never goes anywhere, and the other waxes and wanes, yet never diminishes or grows. If you look at them from the point of Change, then heaven and earth never stay the same for even the blink of an eye. If you look from the point of what is unchanging, then all things, and I, are inexhaustible, so what is there to envy? Between heaven and earth, each thing has its master, and if it were not mine, even if only a hair, I would not take it. Only the clear wind on the river, and the bright moon between the mountains: the ear receives one and creates sound, the eye meets the other and makes color; you can take these without prohibition, and use them without exhausting them. This is the infinite treasure of the Creator, and what you and I can share and rejoice in.”

The guest was pleased and smiled, they washed the cups and refilled them. All the dishes were finished, and the cups and plates were scattered all over. Pillowing on each other in the middle of the boat, they didn’t see that the sky was already brightening in the east.

Su Shih / Su DongPo
(1057-1101)

Translated by Pauline Chen

Something Within The Heart

Something within the heart loves little things
And holds them ever while great moments pass;
The​ mind that shuns the pageantry​ of kings
Will long remember how a blade of grass
Held, in a drop of dew, the first faint glow
Of daybreak in an April long since ended,
Or how some casual footprint in the snow
Glazed in a silent wood as night descended.

When memory brings you back it does not speak
Of your great love in all its timeless bloom,
But rather of one brief moment when a bleak
Finger of sunlight found us in a room
One wintry dusk, and touched you as you lay
Musing on love, with no word left to say.

-Anderson Scruggs

游崇真观南楼睹新及第题名处 Visiting the South Tower of Lofty-Truth Temple, I View the Newly Inscribed Names of Imperial Graduates – 鱼玄机 Yu Xuanji

游崇真观南楼,
睹新及第题名处

云峰满目放春晴,
历历银钩指下生。
自恨罗衣掩诗句,
举头空羡榜中名。

-鱼玄机

Visiting the South Tower of Lofty-Truth Temple,
I view the newly inscribed names of Imperial Graduates

Cloudy summits fill my eyes this fine spring day,
I catch every silver stroke beneath my fingertips.
How I hate this silk dress which conceals my poetry,
I raise my head in hopeless envy of the names that are listed.

– Yu XuanJi

Translation by Dean Marais

About Yu Xuanji:

Yu XuanJi wrote her first poem at 6 years old. When she was older, being exceptionally beautiful, she was sold as a concubine to an official who fell in love with her. However, his jealous wife forced him to throw her out. With no home or income she had to turn to prostitution in Chang’An. She met many of the poets of her day there, and ended up at a taoist temple where she continued to write poems. The story goes that she was falsely accused of murder, and though many of her poet friends pleaded for her life, she was executed in Chang’An at 26 years of age.

夏日山居 A Summer Day Living in The Mountains – 鱼玄机 Yu Xuanji

夏日山居

移得仙居此地来,
花丛自遍不曾栽。
庭前亚树张衣桁,
坐上新泉泛酒杯。
轩槛暗传深竹径,
绮罗长拥乱书堆。
闲乘画舫吟明月,
信任轻风吹却回。

鱼玄机

A Summer Day Living In The Mountains

I’ve moved to this residence suitable for the gods,
Wild clusters of flowers bloom all over.
My gown hangs on a tree in the front courtyard;
I sit beside a fresh spring floating wine cups.
Beyond the pavilion’s railing, a path stretches back into the dark bamboo,
My silk dress lies draped over disorderly piles of books.
I leisurely float in a painted boat, chanting to the bright moon,
Trusting in the light breeze to blow me back again.

Yu XuanJi

Translation by Dean Marais

About Yu Xuanji:

Yu XuanJi wrote her first poem at 6 years old. When she was older, being exceptionally beautiful, she was sold as a concubine to an official who fell in love with her. However, his jealous wife forced him to throw her out. With no home or income she had to turn to prostitution in Chang’An. She met many of the poets of her day there, and ended up at a taoist temple where she continued to write poems. The story goes that she was falsely accused of murder, and though many of her poet friends pleaded for her life, she was executed in Chang’An at 26 years of age.

赋得江边柳 A Poem For The Willows By The River – 鱼玄机 Yu Xuanji

赋得江边柳

翠色连荒岸,
烟姿入远楼。
影铺秋水面,
花落钓人头。
根老藏鱼窟,
枝低系客舟。
萧萧风雨夜,
惊梦复添愁。

鱼玄机

A Poem For The Willows By The River

An emerald iridescence merges with the desolate river banks,
Cloudy mists dance their way into distant homes.
Autumn reflections scatter out upon the surface of the river,
Flowers drop down upon the heads of the fishermen.
Old roots conceal the fishes hidden dens,
As passenger boats moore themselves to hanging willow branches.
The night grieves with wind and rain,
And startling dreams only add to my restlessness.

-Yu Xuanji

Translation by Dean Marais

About Yu Xuanji:

Yu XuanJi wrote her first poem at 6 years old. When she was older, being exceptionally beautiful, she was sold as a concubine to an official who fell in love with her. However, his jealous wife forced him to throw her out. With no home or income she had to turn to prostitution in Chang’An. She met many of the poets of her day there, and ended up at a taoist temple where she continued to write poems. The story goes that she was falsely accused of murder, and though many of her poet friends pleaded for her life, she was executed in Chang’An at 26 years of age.

寄国香 To Guo Xiang – Yu XuanJi 鱼玄机

寄国香
旦夕醉吟身,
相思又此春。
雨中寄书使,
窗下断肠人。
山卷珠帘看,
愁随芳草新。
别来清宴上,
几度落梁尘?

To Guo Xiang

Sunset to sunrise I am drunk and singing,
Thinking of you, lovesick, with spring here once again.
There’s an envoy with letters in the rain,
And a broken hearted woman by the window.
Rolling up red beaded blinds, she looks at the mountains;
Her worries renewed like the fresh and fragrant grass.
Since we were separated at your last banquet,
How many times has the dust of your roof-beams fallen?

-Yu Xuanji

Translated by Dean Marais

About Yu Xuanji:
Yu XuanJi wrote her first poem at 6 years old. When she was older, being exceptionally beautiful, she was sold as a concubine to an official who fell in love with her. However, his jealous wife forced him to throw her out. With no home or income she had to turn to prostitution in Chang’An. She met many of the poets of her day there, and ended up at a taoist temple where she continued to write poems. The story goes that she was falsely accused of murder, and though many of her poet friends pleaded for her life, she was executed in Chang’An at 26 years of age.

Lord Byron – Stanzas To The Po

Stanzas To The Po

River, that rollest by the ancient walls,
Where dwells the lady of my love, when she
Walks by thy brink, and there perchance recalls
A faint and fleeting memory of me;

What if thy deep and ample stream should be
A mirror of my heart, where she may read
The thousand thoughts I now betray to thee,
Wild as thy wave, and headlong as thy speed!

What do I say -a mirror of my heart?
Are not thy waters sweeping, dark, and strong?
Such as my feelings were and are, thou art;
And such as thou art were my passions long.

Time may have somewhat tamed them, -not for ever;
Thou overflow’st thy banks, and not for aye
The bosom overboils, congenial river!
Thy floods subside, and mine have sunk away.

But left long wrecks behind, and now again,
Born in our old unchanged career, we move;
Thou tendest wildly onwards to the main,
And I -to loving one I should not love.

The current I behold will sweep beneath
Her native walls and murmur at her feet;
Her eyes will look on thee, when she shall breathe
The twilight air, unharmed by summer’s heat.

She will look on thee, -I have looked on thee,
Full of that thought; and, from that moment, ne’er
Thy waters could I dream of, name, or see,
Without the inseparable sigh for her!

Her bright eyes will be imaged in thy stream, –
Yes! they will meet the wave I gaze on now:
Mine cannot witness, even in a dream,
That happy wave repass me in its flow!

The wave that bears my tears returns no more:
Will she return by whom that wave shall sweep?
Both tread thy banks, both wander on thy shore,
I by thy source, she by the dark-blue deep.

But that which keepeth us apart is not
Distance, nor depth of wave, nor space of earth,
But the distraction of a various lot,
As various as the climates of our birth.

A stranger loves the lady of the land,
Born far beyond the mountains, but his blood
Is all meridian, as if never fanned
By the black wind that chills the polar flood.

My blood is all meridian; were it not,
I had not left my clime, nor should I be,
In spite of tortures, ne’er to be forgot,
A slave again of love, -at least of thee.

‘Tis vain to struggle -let me perish young –
Live as I lived, and love as I have loved;
To dust if I return, from dust I sprung,
And then, at least, my heart can ne’er be moved.

Lord George Gordon Byron

How Necessary Is It To Have Opinions

Yes! No!

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No! The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.
~ Mary Oliver ~

Only The Bright Moon Shines Upon Me

Deep in the woods Only the bright moon Shines upon me -Wang Wei

Translation:
No one knows I am
Deep in the woods
Only the bright moon
Shines upon me
-Wang Wei

 

The full poem by Wang Wei

In a Retreat Among the Bamboos

Sitting alone among
the dim bamboos,
I play my lute and
Whistle long notes.
No one knows I am
deep in the woods.
Only the bright moon,
shines upon me.

Peach Blossom Stream

There is no rest beside this stream, no love.
Once a lotus root is severed, it won’t grow again.

Where once I waited by the red bridge rail
I walk through yellow leaves alone.

Mountains rise, green above the mist.
The red sun rides a wild goose into the dusk.

I drift like winds in a river of cloud.
Catkins after rain hold to the ground like love.

-Chou Pang-yen

May I Learn To Love You Like This

Too late I loved Thee,
O thou beauty of ancient days, yet ever new!
Too late I loved Thee!
And behold, Thou wert within and I abroad,
And there I searched for Thee;
Deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made.
Thou wert with me but I was not with Thee.
Things held me far from Thee which,
Unless they were in Thee,
Were not at all.
Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstedst my deafness.
Thou flashedst, shonest, and scattered my blindness.
Thou breathedst odors, and I drew in breath and pant for Thee.
I tasted, and hunger and thirst.
Thou touchedst me and I burned for Thy peace.
When I shall with my whole soul cleave to Thee,
I shall nowhere have sorrow or labor,
And my life shall live as wholly full of Thee.
-Saint Augustine

“Oh my God, sweetness unspeakable, turn into bitterness all my fleshly consolation, which draweth me away from love of eternal things, and wickedly allureth towards itself by setting before me some present delight. Let not, oh my God, let not flesh and blood prevail over me, let not the world and its short glory decieve me, let not the devil, and his craftiness supplant me. Give me courage to resist, patience to endure, constancy to persevere. Grant in place of all consolations of the world, the most sweet unction of thy spirit, and in place of carnal love, pour into me the love of thy name.”
-Thomas A Kempis

from: Multitudinous Stars and Spring Waters

III
These fragmented verses
Are only drops of spray
On the sea of knowledge.
Yet they are bright shining
Multitudinous stars, inlaid
On the skies of the heart.

-Ping Hsin (1900’s)
Translated by Kenneth Rexroth

A Drunken Flower

The sound of beating oars wafts in among the flowers.
This shy, gentle girl comes in search of me,
bringing lotus leaves to sip from…
Our skiff rocks among the lilies,
little red waves in the wine.

Her way, wine fragrance, pure as fine vintage.
The flower’s face flushed, the drunkard’s pink;
we two facing.

Drunk, we rested in deep shade;
we napped awhile and woke to find
the boat stuck on a sandbar

-Ouyang Xiu (A.D 1007-1072)

Beautiful Barbarian Love Song

To The Tune: Beautiful Barbarian

The peonies are heavy with dew.
She pauses in the court to pick a flower,

Then coyly asks her lover,
“Which do you think most pretty?”

Because he likes to tease,
he says, “I think perhaps the flower.”

She pretends offense in any case,
crushes it, and throws it in his face.

-Unknown (Song Dynasty A.D. 960-1200)

Love Song

Clouds circle the moon,
breezes ringing wind chimes,
deepening my doubt.

I lit the lamp to write
my broken heart for you.
My sobbing blew it out.

-Ma Chih-yuan (1260-1324)

Soul-Sight

Like moon-dark, like brown water you escape,
O laughing mouth, O sweet uplifted lips.
Within the peering brain old ghosts take shape;
You flame and wither as the white foam slips
Back from the broken wave: sometimes a start,
A gesture of the hands, a way you own
Of bending that smooth head above your heart,—
Then these are vanished, then the dream is gone.

Oh, you are too much mine and flesh of me
To seal upon the brain, who in the blood
Are so intense a pulse, so swift a flood
Of beauty, such unceasing instancy.
Dear unimagined brow, unvisioned face,
All beauty has become your dwelling place.

Archibald MacLeish

Poems of an Executed Revolutionary

A LETTER TO LADY T’AO CH’IU

All alone with my shadow
I whisper and murmur to it,
And write strange characters
In the air, like Yin Hao.
It is not sickness, nor wine,
Nor sorrow for those who are gone,
Like Li Ch’ing-chao, that causes
A whole city of anxiety
To rise in my heart.
There is no one here I can speak to
Who can understand me.
My hopes and visions are greater
Than those of the men around me,
But the chance of our survival is too narrow.
What good is the heart of a hero
Inside my dress?
My perilous fate moves according to plan.
I ask heaven
Did the heroines of the past
Encounter envy like this?

UNTITLED

How many wise men and heroes
Have survived the dust and dirt of the world?
How many beautiful women have been heroines?
There were the noble and famous women generals
Ch’in Liang-yu and Shen Yun-yin.
Though tears stained their dresses
Their hearts were full of blood.
The wild strokes of their swords
Whistled like dragons and sobbed with pain.

The perfume of freedom burns my mind
With grief for my country.
When will we ever be cleansed?
Comrades, I say to you,
Spare no effort, struggle unceasingly,
That at last peace may come to our people,
And jewelled dresses and deformed feet
Will be abandoned.
And one day, all under heaven
Will see beautiful free women,
Blooming like fields of flowers,
And bearing brilliant and noble human beings.

-Ch’iu Chin

Ch’iu Chin was a woman poet and a leader in Sun Yat-sen’s early rebellion. She longed for her country to be free from the Manchu’s and embrace democracy, and for Chinese women to be free. She was executed in 1907 by the Manchu’s for treason and her poems were used against her as evidence in her trial.

Living in the Summer Mountains – Yu Xuanji

If I could travel back in time 1100 years, I would find this woman and marry her.

Living in the Summer Mountains

I have moved to this home of Immortals.
Wild shrubs bloom everywhere.
In the front garden, trees
Spread their branches for clothes racks.
I sit on a mat and float wine cups
In the cool spring.
Beyond the window railing
A hidden path leads away
Into the dense bamboo grove.
In a gauze dress
I read among my disordered
Piles of books.
I take a leisurely ride
In the painted boat,
And chant poems to the moon.
I drift at ease, for I know
The soft wind will blow me home.

……

On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple
I See In The South Hall The List of
Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations

Cloud capped peaks fill the eyes
In the Spring sunshine.
Their names are written in beautiful characters
And posted in order of merit.
How I hate this silk dress
That conceals a poet.
I lift my head and read their names
In a powerless envy.

-Yu Hsuan-Chi
-Yu XuanJi

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung

Open the Blind

Nests in the eaves stir in the dawn
Ephemeral as our peace
Morning prayer
Grace before food
I understand
The endless sky the small earth
The shadow cone
Your shining
Lips and eyes
Your thighs drenched with the sea
A telescope full of fireflies
Innumerable nebulae all departing
Ten billion years before we ever met

-Kenneth Rexroth

Epitaph Among Sunflowers

Do not erect cold tombstones over my grave.
Plant yellow sunflowers about my grave.
Let me look out the endless cornfield
Between the sunflower stalks.

Think of the yellow sunflowers as my glorious love
That resembled the sun.

If you see skylark
Shooting into the sky from the green cornfield,
Think of them as my soaring dreams.

– Hyung-soo Ham

Hills Surround Me

The hills surround me, and
Tell me to live my life,
Sowing the seeds,
Tilling the land.

Build a house below a hill,
Bear sons, bear daughters;
Plant pumpkins along the mud walls.
Live like wild roses
Live like wormwood.

The hills surround me, and
Tell me to live like clouds,
Tell me to live like winds,
Life will soon wane like the moon!

-Mok-wol Park