Monday, October 24, 2016

autumn meditation #3

autumn meditation #3

a thousand houses, mountain-walled, in gentle morning light;
day after day sitting in the river tower in blue haze—

out for two nights straight the fishermen drifting, drifting;
in clear autumn, swallows young and old, darting, darting—

Kuang Heng’s remonstrance to the emperor: fame and honor slight;
Liu Xiang passing on the classics: vocation gone astray—

schoolmates from youth: many of them are not poor;
at Five Tombs their robes are light and their horses stout

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Du Fu:
秋興八首 (三)
qiū xìng bā shŏu (sān)


  • Kuang Heng & Liu Xiang: Two figures from the Han Dynasty. Kuang Heng rose to prominence as a statesman based on his memorials (policy proposals) to the Emperor, while Liu Xiang was a renowned scholar. Du Fu is contrasting his failed career to their success.
  • Line 8: This refers to two passages from The Analects, both of which are given here in James Legge’s translation. I use Legge’s translation because it’s in the public domain, but I also cross-reference Waley’s:

Yan Yuan and Ji Lu being by his side, the Master said to them, "Come, let each of you tell his wishes." Zi Lu said, "I should like, having chariots and horses, and light fur clothes, to share them with my friends, and though they should spoil them, I would not be displeased." Yan Yuan said, "I should like not to boast of my excellence, nor to make a display of my meritorious deeds." Zi Lu then said, "I should like, sir, to hear your wishes." The Master said, "They are, in regard to the aged, to give them rest; in regard to friends, to show them sincerity; in regard to the young, to treat them tenderly." Analects V.26 in Legge; [V.25 in Waley]

Zi Hua being employed on a mission to Qi, the disciple Ran requested grain for his mother. The Master said, "Give her a fu." Ran requested more. "Give her an yu," said the Master. Ran gave her five bing. The Master said, "When Chi was proceeding to Qi, he had fat horses to his carriage, and wore light furs. I have heard that a superior man helps the distressed, but does not add to the wealth of the rich." Analects VI.4, James Legge translation [VI.3 in Waley translation]

A few points of note. In the first passage (which Owen stresses in his reading of the poem), Ji Lu (who is also called Zi Lu—that’s not a typo, as well as Zhong You) was considered a paragon of filial piety & was one of Confucius’ most highly regarded disciples.

In the second passage (which Watson stresses in his reading; since Du Fu’s audience would essentially know The Analects by heart, I expect Du Fu intended both passages to resonate), Chi is shown as an example of someone who shirks filial obligations, as he has valued luxury over devotion. His horses literally are “fat”, which suggests how well he feeds them, while others are needy; Sheila & I debated the translation of the 肥 féi ("fat") character quite a bit, & finally settled on "stout". The passage looks on Chi pejoratively, & this certainly has resonance in Du Fu’s poem. 

As always, deep gratitude to Sheila Graham-Smith, & also to the scholars & translators who have done so much to elucidate this great poetry.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:“Pleasures of the Tang court”: Tang Dynasty, 8th century.
Public domain.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten"

A musical offering today from one of my favorite composers, Arvo Pärt. “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten” was written in 1977 in response to Benjamin Britten’s death the previous year. Pärt stated of the work:

Why did the date of Benjamin Britten's death – 4 December 1976 – touch such a chord in me? During this time I was obviously at the point where I could recognise the magnitude of such a loss. Inexplicable feelings of guilt, more than that even, arose in me. I had just discovered Britten for myself. Just before his death I began to appreciate the unusual purity of his music – I had had the impression of the same kind of purity in the ballads of Guillaume de Machaut. And besides, for a long time I had wanted to meet Britten personally – and now it would not come to that.

The Cantus is written in A minor (Aeolian mode), & employs a string orchestra & a bell; the work is composed in Pärt’s tintinnabuli style. As his biographer, Paul Hillier wrote of Pärt’s composition: "how we live depends on our relationship with death: how we make music depends on our relationship to silence."

Quotations & background information from the Wikipedia entry—see link above.


Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image captures the remnants of a long-dead star. These rippling wisps of ionised gas, named DEM L316A, are located some 160 000 light-years away within one of the Milky Way’s closest galactic neighbours — the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).

The explosion that formed DEM L316A was an example of an especially energetic and bright variety of supernova, known as a Type Ia. Such supernova events are thought to occur when a white dwarf star steals more material than it can handle from a nearby companion, and becomes unbalanced. The result is a spectacular release of energy in the form of a bright, violent explosion, which ejects the star’s outer layers into the surrounding space at immense speeds. As this expelled gas travels through the interstellar material, it heats it up and ionise it, producing the faint glow that Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 has captured here.
The LMC orbits the Milky Way as a satellite galaxy and is the fourth largest in our group of galaxies, the Local Group. DEM L316A is not alone in the LMC; Hubble came across another one in 2010 with SNR 0509 (heic1018), and in 2013 it snapped SNR 0519 (potw1317a).
Date     25 July 2016, 06:00:00
ESA/Hubble & NASA, Y. Chu

The image is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license and may on a non-exclusive basis be reproduced without fee provided they are clearly and visibly credited. Detailed conditions are below; see the ESA copyright statement for full information.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

autumn meditation #2

autumn meditation #2

on Kuizhou’s lonely walls the slant evening light;
I rely on the Dipper when looking for the exalted capital—

it's true: three cries from the gibbons bring on tears;
false that my mission can follow the eighth-month raft—

the ministry’s portrait hall censer intrudes on my rest;
the tower’s white-washed battlements hide a sad reed flute—

look! above wisteria laden stones, the moon;
it shines already on the island’s reed blossoms

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Du Fu:
秋興八首 (二)
qiū xìng bā shŏu (èr)


  • Kuizhou is the name of the prefecture; Du Fu is actually in Baidicheng.
  • Three cries from the gibbons: this refers to an old song that says three cries from the gibbons in the Yangzi's Three Gorges will move one to tears.
  • The eighth-month raft: this refers both to the explorer Zhang Qian who followed the Yellow River to its source on a mission from Emperor Wu of Han, & also to story about a man who boarded a raft that appeared to him in the eighth month (remember, this is a lunarsolar calendar, so roughly, September), & was able to travel the Celestial River, one of the Chinese terms for what we call the Milky Way. As scholar & translator Burton Watson points out, both of these voyages were successful, whereas Du Fu's career has been in his eyes a failure.
  • Line five: this refers to the time when Du Fu worked in the Department of State Affairs (or in Owen, the Board of Works), in a building decorated with official portraits. Watson states that women tended the incense burners that perfumed the robes of the officials. The Chinese character we translated as "rest" (literally, "pillow") has connotations that Du Fu is ill & bedridden. He often describes himself as being in poor health.

As always, deep gratitude to the work done by my translation partner Sheila Graham-Smith, & acknowledgement to notes & background material from Stephen Owen, Watson, & William Hung. 

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
“The Dunhuang star map of 700 AD. British Library Or.8210/S.3326 Ursa Major, Sagittarius and Capricornus are recognizable. The three colors (white, black and yellow) indicate the schools of astronomy of Shih Shen, Kan Te, and Wu Hsien.”
Public Domain

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

interstate avenue octet

the ladybug, still awake in October,
scurries from one wet fallen leaf to the next—

in mist katsuras shed yellow foliage;
the red oak’s still-green leaves turn nearly silver—

walking the avenue I speak the trees’ names
as if speaking your own name to the wind’s gust—

clanging bell on the light rail barreling north;
canada geese move south through layered clouds

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

Autumn Meditation

Autumn Meditation


Waning moon, 98.1 %
illuminated, climbing into cloud,
twilight fading - not blind nightfall, though
that will come –  margins of the visible:
blear line of the south mountain, Mars
sinking in the west, the Milky Way
shuttered, Altair and Vega estranged,
Zhinü’s silk endlessly webbing
subtle shiftless air.

Grey head bent over an ancient song –
lying alone by the cold river,
surprised by the evening of the year
your lamp will not suffice.
And what of that 1.9 %
short of perfection? That ragged edge
of light, mouse-eaten against the dark?
Lyly claimed in all perfect shapes a
blemish brings a liking every way
to the eyes
. Go to the window, love.
The nights grow long.

Sheila Graham-Smith
© 2016 

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Cloud Study, Moonlight”: Albert Bierstadt, circa 1860: oil on paper.

 Public domain.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

wind storm quatrain

a junco in the broken eucalyptus
finds its voice in the wind’s suspended 4th chord—

I’m turning, turning away from jagged rain;
the crow just pecks, pecks in the emerald grass

Jack Hayes
© 2016