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

Dreams of The Tang Dynasty #20

#20
There is a man who lives
Halfway down the mountain.
He and his young daughter of eight years
Have joined me on walks by the river.
She has taken an interest in my old pipa
And I have taken her as a student.
It is the greatest delight of my old age
To have her fill my ears with music once more.
AD886

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Dreams of The Tang Dynasty #19

#19
My hands no longer work like they used to
Stiff and achy, my fingers hurt to move.
I long for music, but my pipa sits unplayed.
I’ve carried it with me some days,
Hoping to meet someone on the road
Who can play me a familiar tune, any tune.
AD886

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Dreams Of The Tang Dynasty #18

#18
This lonely mountain house,
Is the only place my heart can rest.
I wake up in the cold morning light,
And go walking the quiet wooded paths.
Our country crumbles around us,
But the world of men means little here.
Emperors rise and fall; sons and fathers die,
But the pines and peaks remain still.
If I pick up my pace,
I can reach the north peak by noon.
If I don’t get distracted by the landscapes
I can drink my wine before it gets warm.
AD885

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Dreams Of The Tang Dynasty #17

#17
We boil spring water to make tea,
Sitting on a grassy knoll above the water.
The waterfall continues as it has always done,
Ten thousand years with little change.
How many lovers have sat as we have,
Happy and content above this spring?
I’m a cautious man,
But this woman’s a water dragon.
She takes off all her clothes,
And leaps in from our heights above.
AD 865

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Dreams Of The Tang Dynasty #16

#16
Dragons Scale incense fills the air,
I watch her morning rituals from the bed.
Two fools who found each other in this life,
And yet she still finds the time to pray.
Holy priestess of the mountains,
Fragrant blossom of the most precarious peaks.
She has been overlooked by so many men,
But only because they don’t know what they seek.
I soak up this time with her,
Unworthy lover of her ancient soul.
Two temporary sparks in the dark,
Kindling this elusive flame of happiness.
AD864

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Dreams of The Tang Dynasty #13

#13 Hua Shan
Flower Mountain, beautiful and perilous
How many faithful men have fallen from her face?
Her elegance and danger make my heart race,
Men weren’t meant to scale such peaks.
My prayers are said between heavy breaths,
At a lonely shrine on her western cliffs.
Exhausted, I rest for the night in a hermit’s hut,
Where we drink wild tea and write poems.
AD848

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Dreams of The Tang Dynasty #11

#11
We rowed out to an empty island on the Wei river,
Mooring our boat to a fallen tree.
She moved like water through the forest,
Like a flood through my heart.
The night was warm and bright,
Lying on my blanket, we chanted poems to the stars.
Naked, we woke up wet with morning dew,
Making love, we warmed ourselves in the rising sun.
AD865

-龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Xi Shi’s Ghost

Two thousand years ago
There was a woman of exceptional beauty,
So exceptional, the legend goes,
That whenever she looked
At her reflection in a pond,
The fish would forget how to swim,
And sink down into the darkness.
Two thousand years later,
I have forgotten how to live,
Crushed by a vision of her ghost.

 

The Story of Xi Shi: 
King Goujian of Yue was once imprisoned by King Fuchai of Wu after a defeat in war, and Yue later became a tributary state to Wu. Secretly planning his revenge, Goujian’s minister Wen Zhong suggested training beautiful women and offering them to Fuchai as a tribute (knowing Fuchai could not resist beautiful women). His other minister, Fan Li, found Xi Shi and Zheng Dan, and gave them to Fuchai in 490 BC.

Bewitched by the beauty and kindness of Xi Shi and Zheng Dan, Fuchai forgot all about his state affairs and at their instigation, killed his best advisor, the great general Wu Zixu. Fuchai even built Guanwa Palace (Palace of Beautiful Women) in an imperial park on the slope of Lingyan Hill, about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) west of Suzhou. The strength of Wu dwindled, and in 473 BC Goujian launched his strike and completely routed the Wu army. King Fuchai lamented that he should have listened to Wu Zixu, and then committed suicide.

In the legend, after the fall of Wu, Fan Li retired from his ministerial post and lived with Xi Shi on a fishing boat, roaming like fairies in the misty wilderness of Taihu Lake, and no one saw them ever again. This is according to Yuan Kang’s Yue Jueshu (越绝书). Another version, according to Mozi, is that Xi Shi eventually died from drowning in the river.

(Story Source: Wikipedia)

Dreams of The Tang Dynasty #6

#6 For Yu
Gone now three long years
My nights are long and cold without her.
Executed at twenty six years of age,
What cruelty to befall such beauty.
Some blossoms fall from the tree when the time is right
Others are cut down violently and trampled.
Chang’An has become as dark as a moonless night,
The city in which we once made love.
All these years of heartbreak,
Has turned my hair grey before its time.
AD 871

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including Long’s childhood love) destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Dreams of The Tang Dynasty #2

#2 For XinMei
Her skin is as white and smooth as cream.
Her hair, like a dark storm.
She dances to an old mountain tune
Wearing nothing but a white gauze dress.
The cool air blows in through her open windows
While we drink wine, and I write poems on her thigh.
Her husband is a man of many vices;
Spending all his days in the capitol’s whore houses.
Some nights we weep for the future,
But we shed no tears tonight –
How much longer can we live like this?
At sixteen, naive to the ways of the world,
We made vows of love to each other.
At seventeen, the world’s brutality became real,
Her mother married her off to a fool for money.
AD 842

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

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.

Every Step a Thought of You: Poems from my Travels in China

Two months ago I spent 31 days backpacking China. I didn’t write much on my adventure, but here’s what  I did.

A Sun Kissed Phoenix From Dali

She stood in the aisle,
Sun kissed through the windows of the train,
Like Zhou Yu’s ghost.
She stood as though
She wanted my eyes upon her,
She smiled as though
She knew they were.
She looked left and right and back
But she wouldn’t look my way.
All I wanted was a second
And now she’s gone forever,
Leaving me haunted and hungry
For even just the briefest glance
Into her dark Yunnan eyes.

……..

Ten thousand steps to the top of Mount Hua,
Every step a thought of you.

……..

Two mopeds, unattended in the empty field
As the copper sun slides behind rocky peaks.
Two lovers, embrace each other in secret
Hidden beneath the orchard trees.

……..

That melody, those words
Resounding through this foreign land.
Ten thousand miles away
Racing through rice paddies
And early morning fog –
Dark red sun rising
In the distant city smog.
Ten thousand miles away
And yet you’re here now
Present and real in my mind
Like Byron’s muse before me
Clouding my tired and weary thoughts.

……..

Every night
It snows on Jade Dragon Mountain
But every day
The sun steals it away.

And so it goes with my dreams

……..

I want you to stick
The paper cuttings of my heart
To the windows of your home.
I want to drink the monsoon
While you lay in my arms
Under the red rain silhouettes of my love.

……..

I spent two days
Breathing dust the color of your skin
And striving through a summer sun
As fiery as your presence
Beating my head dizzy.
Consuming the mountain landscapes,
Which taunt me with their beauty,
Landscapes as difficult to reach
As the landscapes of your body.

A Traveler of the Stars

As long as I’m in pursuit of You,
I can never be lonely, my Love,
For I carry You everywhere
And You infect every crack and crevice
Of my broken being.
I am Your Kintsugi bowl
And it’s Your gold
That has put me back together again.
I shall never break
As long as I’m in Your hands.
Oh love – What worlds will we see together?
What wonders do You have to show me?
I strive after Your mystery
Like a traveler of the stars
Searching for another piece of Your puzzle.
I long to drink –
And You are always there
Giving me sip after beautiful sip,
Leaving me only wanting more and more of You.
Always with me – but a universe apart.

I Might Wait In Vain

I wait for a woman
Who has the heart of Li Qing Zhao.
Do I wait in vain?
A woman who sits upon the mountain
Just to watch the cherry blossoms bloom,
A woman who finds the greatest pleasure in life,
Drinking wine and drinking poetry
Hours into the night.

The Ever Expansive Sky

Passionate fool,
Why’s it so hard for you
To do as you ought to?

Inexhaustible soul,
Your heart, your life,
Don’t belong to you.

The world is a mountain,
A mountain on which you’ll die,
And a mountain on which you have to climb.

Your days in the valley
Are but memories down below
So look not to the rocks on which you’ll expire
But upwards, to the ever expansive sky.

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

December Days Under The Trees

When you get down to it,
Life is two friends
Sitting by a river on a cold day
Reading the words of dead men
And basking in the glory.

………………….

There are times
When your body shakes
From the pulsing blood,
From the conscious thought,
That this is your life.
There is nothing you can do
but shake – mouth open wide
sit and shake and breathe
and be filled with awe,

Under the leafless trees,

Under the setting sun.

………………..

I admire the tree in silence.
The way it clings to the rock
And works its way down into the river
Down into the earth.
I think about the knowledge of man.
All the things that men have told me
about the tree – about botany or biology.
They have said this
They have said that
Words whispered into the air and gone in time.
Knowledge is worthless in comparison to beauty
This tree is magnificent
And that is enough for me.