From this height one sees everything

(after Li Po)
shen_zhou_poet_on_a_mountaintop_detailnelson-atkins_museum__kansas_city-142BA83F64C7B20B641

A younger me would have stood on his head
To prove the earth and sky are of a size
Then seeing beneath his feet the sunlit clouds
Strode off upon that opalescent path.

These days the sun has turned her face from me.
The autumn wind flings tiny knives of frost.
Far down below, the slow east river flows
Beset with whitecaps, fishing boats, and gulls.

Yes, younger, I’d have turned things upside-down:
The sparrows and the swallows at their nests,
The small birds perched among the date tree’s thorns,
All would have stopped, and quirked their heads to see!

But these days I’m no gymnast, me.
Sundown, I’ll sling my sword upon my back;
I’ll set my feet upon the dusty road
And head off down the mountain, muttering of home.

Li Po’s poem in the original looks like this:

lb19

and, translated word-for-word, reads thus:

Climb high gaze four seas
Heaven earth how vast vast
Frost blanket crowd thing autumn
Wind blow big desert cold
Magnificent east flow water
10,000 thing all billow
White sun cover elapse brilliance
Float cloud without certain end
Wutong nest swallow sparrow
Thorn jujube perch yuan luan
Moreover again return go come
Sword sing travel road difficult

Image: (edited) detail of Poet on a Mountaintop by Shen Zhou, c. 1500. I have taken the liberty of removing the text from this version of the image, since it has little to do with either Li Po’s poem, or my (very free) version.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s