Tuesday, July 8, 2014



Soon after I wore my hair covering my forehead
I was plucking flowers and playing in front of the gate,
When you came by, walking on bamboo-stilts
Along the trellis, playing with the green plums.
We both lived in the village of Ch’ang-kan,
Two children, without hate or suspicion.
At fourteen I became your wife; I was shame-faced and never dared smile.
I sank my head against the dark wall;
Called to a thousand times, I did not turn.
At fifteen I stopped wrinkling my brow
And desired my ashes to be mingled with your dust.
I thought you were like the man who clung to the bridge:
Not guessing I should climb the Look-for-Husband Terrace,
But next year you went far away,
To Ch’ü-t’ang and the Whirling Water Rocks.
In the fifth month “one should not venture there”
Where wailing monkeys cluster in the cliffs above.
In front of the door, the tracks you once made
One by one have been covered by green moss—
Moss so thick that I cannot sweep it away,
And leaves are falling in the early autumn wind.
Yellow with August the pairing butterflies
In the western garden flit from grass to grass.
The sight of these wounds my heart with pain;
As I sit and sorrow, my red cheeks fade.
Send me a letter and let me know in time
When your boat will be going through the three gorges of Pa.
I will come to meet you as far as ever you please,
Even to the dangerous sands of Ch’ang-fēng.

Li Po
Translation by Arthur Waley (1918, public domain)

[This is the poem Ezra Pound translated in his 1915 Cathay collection as “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter.” Waley’s version is more intimate, & provides an interesting contrast.]

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Landscape with a bridge - detail: Anonymous, 1st century. Scroll painting on silk.
Public domain

1 comment:

  1. I saw that image in a link to RFB and thought immediately of your Portland bridge photos! Surely not... :)

    I've not read any of these translations for a long time. I did glimpse at Beowulf the other day, though. Like all ancient literature these things really bring the humanity of ancient peoples alive.


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