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.

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