Kung said something wise

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Kung had a saying
about true wisdom —
how did it go exactly?
Something about the wise man
needing only a few words…

But I forgot to turn down the page,
and — his Collected Works,
such a big book!

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September, midnight

(after Li Bai)

Chinese soldiers in foxholes.jpg

Ten thousand September winds were blowing.
Ten thousand slivers of moon
peered through ten thousand windows of Chang-an,
where ten thousand women were pounding out silk
so every Chang-an household
could send warm clothes to the front.

Ten thousand September winds froze us at Yuguan Pass,
ten thousand slivers of moon
shone their feeble light
into ten thousand foxholes,
silvering the living and the dead like early frost, although
the living and the dead alike
were dressed warmly, anyway.

All that month I prayed I would meet my enemy soon,
so that one of us, at least,
could go home to see his wife again.

 

 

 ~

A prompt from NaPoWriMo.net (“Today I challenge you to write a poem in which you explore what you think is the cruelest month, and why”) jibed nicely and prompted me to finish my version of this poem from Li Po:

長安一片月
萬戶擣衣聲
秋風吹不盡
總是玉關情
何日平胡虜
良人罷遠征

Chang-an + one + slice/sheet + month/moon
10,000 + household + pound + clothing + sound
autumn + wind + blow + never to be + exhausted
(total + yes) | always + (jade) | (off love) (turn off situation)
what + day + level | (ripening) + Hu + prisoner
(good + man) | beloved + stop + (far + levy) | expedition

If you prefer a translation… there are any number out there. Here is a representative one:

Chang-an — one slip of moon;
in ten thousand houses, the sound of fulling mallets.
Autumn winds keep on blowing,
all things make me think of Jade Pass!
When will they put down the barbarians
and my good man come home from his far campaign?

Image (because great poetry is anachronistic): Chinese soldiers in fox holes, (ca. 1942), from the U.S. Office of War Information, via U.S. Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/item/98517523/). This photograph, as a U.S. government work, is unprotected by copyright.

 

He said we would meet

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She lingered by the marble stair
till it was full night
and the dew had soaked her stockings
quite through.

Waiting for what?
As it turned out,
only to sit at her window later
watching the moon go down.

 

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The crows all night

(after Li Po)

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And the crows
flew out of the storm
and took their places
among the branches;

and the sun
at the world’s edge
broke through the clouds;

and she paused at her loom,
the cawing of the crows reminding her
that she was alone,
the jaundiced light
reminding her how far behind
was her home by Qin River.

The mist-green thread she wove
had neither beginning nor end.

The crows called all night long
while the rain fell like her tears.

 

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Toy Boat

3238836601_08e731b2d7_oInadequate paddles, a child’s boat.
It got us to the far bank
Where summer grass choked the shore
And the heat scent of summer grass grew heavy on the cooling air.

Somewhere a car-camper played a radio.
Everything seemed to stand still:
The boat still; the water still;
But we startled the shorebirds and they rose all about us, all at once.

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To Tempt Spring to Return

After Han Yu

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The low grasses, the tall trees: which of them tempts spring to return?
In fall, the trees flaunted their dying leaves; the grasses withered, leaving us melancholy.
Now they vie in beauty, tempting spring to return.
Even the poplar and the subtle elm offer up their pallid blossoms to the wind
To overflow the sky, to fly like snow, to tempt spring to return.

 

 

 

 
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Still awake

3853566155_771f35d751_bThat time you lay with me
and the moon so bright

we doubted our own eyes: springtime,
and silver frost on the ground!

Like a blow, your absence.
I look for you under the bright moon
in the springtime

but the moon sinks. You are absent.

That’s why.

 

 

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From this height one sees everything

(after Li Po)
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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.

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I gazed into my wine cup

(After Li Po)

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I gazed into my wine cup
Till after darkness fell.

Out of that dark pool
The vines grew up
Twining me around
And the wine was in me
And I was the wine.

Then I dreamed I stood,
Lost in the wine’s dreaming,
And the moon was there
Beneath my feet, there
Where I walked, midstream.

Somewhere an owl hooted

But nobody was there
To wake me.

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Visiting the Taoist Priest Dai Tianshan, but Not Finding Him

(after Li Po)

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I heard his dog barking down by the creek, but when I tried to follow
A hard rain fell, scattering the peach blossoms, hiding the path.

I’ve long since lost the dog, the creek, the path; I can’t hear the temple bell,
And one stand of bamboo is like any other.
I think it’s spring now, or will be soon: it’s greener, anyhow,
And sometimes I see deer, off in the woods.

No one else can tell you the right way to go, that’s what he always said;
Meaning, I thought: Trust yourself. See where that’s got me?

 

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