Yang-tze gorges  25 poems of Master Po

Po Chü-i (A.D. 772-846) tr. Christopher Mulrooney after Waley

 

1. setting a wild goose loose


first winter in exile amid deep snow
river frozen forests broken down by it
cold starving birds flying hither and yon
a migrant wild goose amongst them clamoring
sought herbs and rested on the ice
then flew away but feebleness detained it
some boys caught it in a net
and sold it living in the market
I'm a northerner now exiled down south
like bird like man both strangers here
an exiled bird wounded an exile's heart
I ransomed you and set you free
cloudborne wild goose where are you headed
don't I pray you now go northwest
Huai-hsi's full of rebels not yet subdued
a million armed men are camped there
government and rebel troops grown old entrenched
and starving for a morsel like you
bold and hungry they'll make you prey
and fletch their arrows with your feathers



 

2. apart


yesterday I learned one died
today another one is dead
most of my old chums
are gone to the afterlife
never to be seen again
it's all over for them
the rest where are they
scattered a thousand miles apart
I've loved my whole life long
how many fingers count them
prefects of T'ung Kuo Li
and Fēng those four only
gray in absence we've grown
a wave in the world
the pleasures of the past
have brought us to this
when shall we drink wine
and have a laugh together?


 

 

3. singing in the mountains


all men have their failings
mine is I'm a poet
I'm free of many bonds
but this one lingers still
when I see a landscape
when I meet a friend
I begin to sing verses
like one encountering a god
since being exiled to Hsün-yang
I go to the hills
when I've finished a poem
and climb to a peak
I lean on blanched stone
pull down a green branch
my singing startles the view
monkeys and birds watch me
I'm afraid I'm a laughingstock
elsewhere than away from people



 

4. pruning


before my window trees
thickleaved and growing tall
alas the far mountains
cannot therefore be seen
with knife and adze
I hewed the branches
ten thousand leaves dropped
a thousand hills appeared
as when clouds part
and blue sky shows
like a friend's face
after an age apart
first a gentle breeze
one by one birds
I relaxed gazing southeastward
looking my mind wandered
no man but prefers
all good has ill
I love tender branches
but green hills more




 

5. his last poem


lying beside the plain screen
burner before the blue curtain
read to by my grandchildren
I watch the servants cook
and answer poems by friends
pay for medicine with cash
after all these trivial affairs
I sleep facing the south



 

 

6. a gift from Li Chien


once to one old
you gave a black-gauze hat
I have it on
though you're in Hades
it's worn but keeps
no man returns thence
the hill is moonlit
leaves beswarm your grave



 

 

7. big rug


how can we keep the poor warm?
one snug alone's no good
a ten thousand foot big rug
would keep the whole city cozy




 

8. silver spoon


I'm used to service abroad
it isn't that I dislike
but leaving my niece A-kuei
this brought me to tears
little girls should feed daintily
Mrs. Ts'ao take note
so herewith a silver spoon
remember me and eat with manners




 

9. on top of Old Smoky


a tall thing's Old Smoky
all I saw I remember
kept at work a year
finally I got to go
clutching vines and risky rocks
both hands and feet weary
several friends came with me
but two couldn't go on
eventually we reached the peak
dazzling and tremulous my soul
ten thousand feet to bottom
my perch one foot wide
till you've seen it all
the world's not so vast
a ribbon the river was
a clenched fist P'ēn Castle
the halter of the world
chokes my limbs like dust
I sighed for leaving office
and returned to the hive

 

 

 

10. Yang-tze gorges


ten thousand feet of mountain
one thousand fathoms of river
sky between cliffs of stone
the thickness of a reed
at Chü-t'ang a vertical cleft
at Yen- stopped by islands
long before twilight night falls
white waves rise without wind
big rocks like flat swords
little rocks like ivory tusks

this boat cannot move further
let alone three hundred miles
little is the bamboo rope
weak the stanchions for hauling
one slip every boat sinks
my life's on this thread
it's said the upright man
shall go safe among savages
is it true that villains
only have died in shipwrecks?
I born in evil times
a flop ask fate's boon?
I dread my skilless body
occupying a nameless grave somewhere




 

11. 60


in one's thirties the senses are distracting
in one's seventies one's likely ill
in one's fifties fine
serene with the world
far behind me is gain and loss
I am not feeble nor yet ill
still strong enough for rivers and hills
the sound of pipes and flutes charms
I taste new wine relaxed
drunk I recite the old strains
herewith Mēng-tē is your poem back
sixty's when your ears obey you




 

12. at Hsün-yang


I see two arches rounding the bend
these are the gates of Hsün-yang's outskirts
leagues before me in my boat
in mist and rain at dark

Hsün-yang is upon us my thoughts dwell
on Liang's tower P'ēn harbor as well
the trees are bare after mountain rain
the houserooves are hidden among river mists
the horses feed on mallows and languish
the rude cottage walls let wind in
I see scarletwheeled vehicles arriving from town
kind people to greet their new prefect




 

13. long after Yüan Chēn


his brush is dry
his name forgotten
dust covers his poems
all tucked away
I heard someone singing
just a verse
before I knew it
my breast twinged




 

14. A-ts'ui at two


I've lolled in bed late
near dusk I rise yawning
and quickly light the stove
I dawdle at the mirror
make tea of melted snow
and cook up milk pudding
none to laugh but me
my cheer unknown to all
my wine is thoroughly mellow
my harp is in tune
to Mencius's Three Joys add
playing with my baby boy




 

15. spending the night at Jung-yang


old Jung-yang
youthful I left
four decades later now
once more I visit
I was eleven or twelve
now I am fifty-six
yet I recall my childhood
in every smallest bright detail
the old houses vanished
the townspeople I knew left
the city's not just changed
hillocks are vales vales hillocks
only now Ch'iu and Yu
unruffled flow as always



 

16. after lunch


after lunch I nap
have two teacups
I regard the sunlight
thrown to the southwest
happy one regrets swift days
sad one hastes the year
heartfree of joy or sadness
one counts not the time




 

17. the man with the broken arm


eighty-four at Hsin-fēng he
hair and eyebrows white as newfallen snow
his greatgrandchildren support him before the inn
on one arm his right's broken
I asked how long since it broke
and how he'd received such an injury
he said he'd grown up in Hsin-fēng
in a time of peace
I would hear music in the garden
knew nothing of all the military weapons
the T'ien-pao wars came drafting men
one man in three taken
and where did the chosen go?
a five-month thousand-mile haul to Yün-nan
we heard tell of Yün-nan's Lu River
pepper flowers fall in raising a stink
when soldiers forded the water boiled up
two or three died from every platoon
north and south of my village keened
children from parents husbands from wives parted
they say in expeditions against the Min
a million men go not one returns
I was twenty-four then
my name went down in the books
by dark of night alone
I smashed it with a rock
declassified myself from banners and bows
no mission for me to Yün-nan
broken bones and sinews certainly do hurt
I could bear pain to return home
sixty years I've had a broken arm
one limb ruined body safe
on winter nights in wind and rain
all night long I wake for pain
pain insomnia
isn't much
when you're alive though all are dead
otherwise at the Lu ford
my soul would have haunted my bones
over ten thousand graves floating sorrowfully

so he said
I bid you hark
you know
K'ai-yüan's prime minister Sung K'ai-fu
did not honor yahoos lest bellicosity flourish
you know
T'ien Pao's prime minister Yang Kuo-chung
became a yahoo looking for imperial reward
but people got fed up before he won
ask Hsin-fēng's man with the broken arm


 

 

18. a boxed set of his works


I hew a bookbox
fine of hard cypress
whose works shall it hold
but those of PO
all my life I've written books
in youth and even now
all told seventy tomes
about three thousand pieces
I know they'll be dispersed
I fear they'll be discarded
I turn the key myself
put it before the bookdrapes
abandoning a child
who rescues an orphan?
my daughters shall share them
my grandchildren inherit them



 

19. assignment to Chung-Chou
(Szechwan)



when I was at Hsün-yang
friends and visitors were few
then suddenly grieved at heart
I left with no comfort
assigned to a barren solitude
in a pit mountains surround
five months no river traffic
thanks to waves like horses
the citizenry resemble wild apes
filling the mountains and prairies
I despair of finding friends
and settle for anything human



 

20. with a dancing girl


she still wears her pigtails
half thirty years old
a fine lady you are
to be my hill-and-stream companion
we frolic in the springs
scramble up the fine trees
she reddens at her dancing
saddens at her song's end
don't sing the willow song
no heart's here to break



 

21. spell


limitless ocean
neither bottom nor marge
in the turbidity of its lower depths
it's said there are three hills
sacred with herbs that vanquish death
you eat them and grow wings
some rulers have believed these tales
wizards were sent to gather them
what the blessed isles but fiction?
the clouded waters left them clueless
limitless ocean
resistless wind
they seek in vain the blessed isles
finding no blessed isles they daren't return
they start out young and grow old
Hsü Fu they learn was empty air
vain their prayers to One and All
look there
where those rulers have their resting place
wind sighs among those tangled grasses
and then think
great Lao-tzŭ in the Tao Ching
omitted herbs
omitted wings
nor mentioned flying to heaven at noon




 

22. Ling Ying Terrace


climbing I see how small is man
all flesh is vain say these distances
I turn again to court and town
one more rice grain in the bin




 

23. red cockatoo


a gift from Annam
red cockatoo
shade of peach blossom
talking like a human
as it ever is
with wit and eloquence
they made a cage
and kept it



 

24. night duty


I stopped writing imperial rescripts
pines bamboos all quiet
moon and calm wind
like evening in the hills
dozed dreaming of the southwest
thought myself at Hsien-yu Temple
woke up hearing the clepsydra
thinking it a mountain stream



 

25. the fairy dream


once one dreamed of heaven
went soaring there in space
on a crane's white back
led by two red banners
flapping wings and flapping coattails
jade bells jangling suddenly together
halfway there he looked back
upon this dark tumultuous world
no longer saw his town
nothing but mountains and water
Eastern Sea a pale strip
China Hills dots of green
a fairy throng swept past
to the Jade City palace
who knew that the Immortals
pay homage like earthly courtiers?
meets the Great Jade Emperor
he bows and pays respect
the Emperor says You're talented
take good care of yourself
we come in fifteen years
to make you an Immortal
he bowed twice receiving this
and awoke feeling quite ecstatic
he kept this to himself
but vowed a hermit's life
cut off kith and kin
ate the plainest of foods
for breakfast only coral dust
for dinner only dewy mist
in the mountains thirty years
waiting for the heavenly coach
the time was long past
but nor wings nor coachbells
his teeth and hair fell
his ears and eyes weakened
one morning he changed altogether
and was one with dust
be there gods and fairies
their ways aren't our ways
unless you bear the marks
and your name is written
you but fast in vain
what is metaphysics to you
what are all your labors?
do not shorten your life
he who dreamed of fairies
ruined his life with dreaming