Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.


Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tang Dynasty Poems: # 79, Hard Roads in Shu

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. There was no home coming or leave taking; no event too small to not be commemorated with a poem.

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here. Today we have #79: Hard Roads in Shu.

HARD ROADS IN SHU

Oh, but it is high and very dangerous!
Such travelling is harder than scaling the blue sky.
...Until two rulers of this region
Pushed their way through in the misty ages,
Forty-eight thousand years had passed
With nobody arriving across the Qin border.
And the Great White Mountain, westward, still has only a bird's path
Up to the summit of Emei Peak --
Which was broken once by an earthquake and there were brave men lost,
Just finishing the stone rungs of their ladder toward heaven.
...High, as on a tall flag, six dragons drive the sun,
While the river, far below, lashes its twisted course.
Such height would be hard going for even a yellow crane,
So pity the poor monkeys who have only paws to use.
The Mountain of Green Clay is formed of many circles-
Each hundred steps, we have to turn nine turns among its mound --
Panting, we brush Orion and pass the Well Star,
Then, holding our chests with our hands and sinking to the ground with a groan,
We wonder if this westward trail will never have an end.
The formidable path ahead grows darker, darker still,
With nothing heard but the call of birds hemmed in by the ancient forest,
Male birds smoothly wheeling, following the females;
And there come to us the melancholy voices of the cuckoos
Out on the empty mountain, under the lonely moon....
Such travelling is harder than scaling the blue sky.
Even to hear of it turns the cheek pale,
With the highest crag barely a foot below heaven.
Dry pines hang, head down, from the face of the cliffs,
And a thousand plunging cataracts outroar one another
And send through ten thousand valleys a thunder of spinning stones.
With all this danger upon danger,
Why do people come here who live at a safe distance?
...Though Dagger-Tower Pass be firm and grim,
And while one man guards it
Ten thousand cannot force it,
What if he be not loyal,
But a wolf toward his fellows?
...There are ravenous tigers to fear in the day
And venomous reptiles in the night
With their teeth and their fangs ready
To cut people down like hemp.
Though the City of Silk be delectable, I would rather turn home quickly.
Such travelling is harder than scaling the blue sky....
But I still face westward with a dreary moan.



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