Saturday, June 18, 2016
as days grow longer, mountains & rivers grow lovelier;
on spring breezes, the fragrance of grass & blossoms—
as mud thaws, the swallows are on the wing;
on warm sands, Mandarin ducks doze in pairs
the river’s like jade, the birds exceeding white;
in green mountains, flowers aspire to flame—
this springtime I look on also will pass away;
which day, which year will I ever go home
based on Du Fu: 絕句二首
juéjù èr shŏu
#1: It seems clear that the swallows are gathering the thawing mud for their nests. Renowned Du Fu scholar William Hung actually made that explicit in his prose translation of the poem. However, the Chinese doesn't literally state this, so although it was sorely tempting, we didn't make this explicit. Also, Mandarin ducks traditionally symbolize conjugal happiness.
#2: Sheila's research has suggested that the flowers described in line 2 are Rhododendron strigillosum, known in China as "prickly rhododendron". Stephen Owen points out that the final line plays on the pun in Chinese between "going home" & "the end of spring".
Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
芳春雨霽 (Spring Fragrance, Clearing After Rain): Ma Lin, between 1195 & 1224; ink and colors on silk.