You are currently viewing parted by death, we choke

Language: Chinese
Poets: Du Fu & Li Bai
Translator: Wong May
Region: Tang Dynasty

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parted by death, we choke

Five poems from In the Same Light: 200 Tang Poems for Our Centurytranslated from Chinese by Wong May

Du Fu (also known as Tu Fu) was an influential poet-historian considered to be one greatest poets of the Tang dynasty.

Li Bai, friend of the poet Du Fu, left home in his youth to wander the Yangtze River Valley and write poetry and about his life.

Wong May was born in China’s wartime capital, Chongqing, in 1944.  She was brought up in Singapore by her mother, a classical Chinese poet; studied English Literature at the University of Singapore with the poet D.J. Enright; from 1966 to 1968 she was at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Soon after, she left the USA for Europe. Her fourth book of poems, Picasso’s TearsPoems, 1978-2013, was published by Octopus Poetry. In 2022, she received the Windham Campbell Prize. Wong May currently lives in Dublin. She paints under the name Ittrium Coey, and has exhibited her work in Dublin and Grenoble. 

Three poems by Du Fu

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梦李白

死别已吞声,生别常恻恻。
江南瘴疠地,逐客无消息。
故人入我梦,明我长相忆。
君今在罗网,何以有羽翼?
恐非平生魂,路远不可测。
魂来枫林青,魂返关塞黑。
落月满屋梁,犹疑照颜色。
水深波浪阔,无使蛟龙得。

Dreaming of Li Bai

Parted by death, we choke,
Knock back the sobs.

Parted alive
Lifelong — we breathe
With regrets.

South of the river, miasma rules the swamps.
Not a word since your exile,
In dreams often
You made your visit
                       Knowing how I miss you.
Your soul,
        Late of the living,
                       Blown in at first light
With the glint of green maples & out —
                     Off the frontier gate ere the black night
                     Claims you.
They have netted you in the other world
The forces that be.
                      On parole,
                      Where did you get those wings & feathers?

                       Uncannily bright,
                       The moon too
                       Has no place to hide,
                                 Crashing through the rafters
As it leaves the sky —
                     My absent friend
                            I begin to dream in your colors.

                     The waves ahead are steep &
                     Perilous

                     We are handing ourselves
                     Over to dragons,
                     Friend

                     Mind the dragons
                     & other watery monsters.

月夜 杜甫

今夜鄜州月,閨中只獨看。
遙憐小兒女,未解憶長安。
香霧雲鬟溼,清輝玉臂寒。
何時倚虛幌,雙照淚痕幹。

The Fuzhou Moon

                    This night the Fuzhou moon;
                    In her lady’s chamber.

                    She is alone.

Pity the little son & daughter
At home,
Too young to know
                      Their mother
 Is missing Chang’an.

                                     ***

                     But the dew shall fall
           Dense with her scent

                     Lady
                     Whose hair is as clouds
                                Of the night

                                 The chill of whose arm
                      Carved jade,
                                 Her own,

Is not to be borne

                                     ***

                      For a moon
                      To see
                      Us
                      My lady
By the dithering screen

                      At the window
      Clear night

Tears to dry

            In the same light

對雪

戰哭多新鬼,
愁吟獨老翁。
亂雲低薄暮,
急雪舞回風。
瓢棄尊無綠,
爐存火似紅。
數州消息斷,
愁坐正書空。

Facing Snow

In wartime one weeps for new ghosts.
& the many more yet to come
One shall weep with.
An old man sits humming to himself in autumn.
Tumultuous clouds have made the thin evening sky
An even lower ceiling.
Fast snow twirls in the hand of an upbeat wind.
A wine ladle, lying beside a jar, not green —
Green, when full.
In the stove the fire is red & ongoing.
There continues to be no news
From more than
One part of the country.
No news.

                      Sit then,
                      Plonk in sorrow,
   Draft your letter midair.

Two poems by Li Bai

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長相思

長相思,
在長安,
絡緯秋金井闌
微霜淒淒色寒,
孤燈不明思欲絕
卷幃望月空長歎,
美人如花隔雲端
上有青冥之長天,
下有淥水之波瀾
天長地運魂飛苦,
夢魂不到關山難
長相思,
摧心肝!

My Longings Have One Abode

My longings know no bounds,
Have one abode, shall always reside in Chang’an.
Crickets shrill in autumn by the gold fretwork railings.
Slight frost casts a cold hue on the straw mats.
By the piteous light of one lamp, I sit;
On the rack my longings stretch me
To no end
                Will not leave off.
& what of the night?
The window screen lifted, on the sky a moon
A moon that merits a sigh.
                    My fair one is as a flower behind the clouds.
From above, the aether of heaven, cerulean,
& below,
The clearly perilous waters.
The road is arduous, sky-high it climbs & climbs
Hard on the body which couldn’t fly
                                   Bitter the soul that yearns so.
My longings, as things go, will not take me through
                    The mountain pass to her side.
Frankly
Li Bai,
There isn’t a dreamer in hell’s
Chance.

Brooding on these matters
Days, nights

Destroys one’s insides.

日出行

日出東方隈,似從地底來。
曆天又複入西海,六龍所舍安在哉?
其始與終古不息,人非元氣,安得與之久徘徊?
草不謝榮于春風,木不怨落于秋天。
誰揮鞭策驅四運?萬物興歇皆自然。
羲和!羲和!汝奚汩沒于荒淫之波?
魯陽何德,駐景揮戈?
逆道違天,矯誣實多。
吾將囊括大塊,浩然與溟涬同科!

Ode to the Sun

The sun rises on an elbow
In the east,
& we think of it as coming out of the ground.
Crossing the sky it goes west
To the sea,
O where
& when would the six dragons driving the sun
Get to rest in peace?
It has never been known to stop since time began.

A man is not a force of nature
Much as he’d like to stay
On earth, dragging his feet.

                     Under the sun,
                     Our sun
The grass never has to thank spring
In season,
                In person
For the splendor, the honor.
& the woods do not blame
Autumn
Autumn coming in to shed its leaves.
                 Why bring down your whip,
Steer the carriage
                  Four seasons?
All things grow & decay, left to themselves.
Xihe! Xihe!
         With your charioteer
You plunged the sun
Into the billows
Of deep waters,

& General Lu Yang, waving his spearhead at the sky
A spear!
To stop the sun from setting on his battleground.
Who gave him permission?
Such blasphemy against nature
                Laws both human & divine.
Pride in excess, Xihe,
         Greed of mortals & arrant lies,
Lu Yang,
Lies never out of season.
I myself in person am a bag
                   & baggage of nature,
      Partaking of her largesse —
Ready too to pack up
                 If a torrent should take me back
To the source
Torrential I ride
I ride the pure,
Xihe, Xihe, the impure.

These poems are excerpted from In the Same Light: 200 Tang Poems for Our Century, (tr. by Wong May), The Song Cave, 2022.