Friday, January 12, 2018

Autumn Daybreak, Walking through a Deserted Village in South Valley

Autumn Daybreak, Walking through a Deserted Village in  South Valley

at autumn’s end, frost and dew hanging heavy,
rise at dawn to walk through a hidden valley—

yellow leaves have enveloped the creek bridge,
in the deserted village, nothing but ancient trees—

winter blossoms here and there, sparse and lonely,
the stream’s murmur cut off, then picks up again—

my heart’s desires long since have been put aside:
what is it that startles the milu deer?

Translation © Jack Hayes 2018
Based on Liu Zongyuan: 秋曉行南谷經荒村
Qiū Xiăo Xíng Nán Gŭ Jīng Huāng Cūn

Note: Milu—also known as Père David’s deer—are essentially extinct in the wild, though a small feral population does currently exist in China, composed of a herd that escaped a zoo. Otherwise, the milu only exist in zoos. Dating back to prehistorical times, milu ranged across all of China, though the population shrank steadily during historical times. The milu are sometimes called “sibuxiang” (Chinese: 四不像; pinyin: sì bú xiàng), which could be translated as “four not alike”; they are variously described as having "the hooves of a cow but not a cow, the neck of a camel but not a camel, antlers of a deer but not a deer, the tail of a donkey but not a donkey"; "the nose of a cow but not a cow, the antlers of a deer but not a deer, the body of a donkey but not a donkey, tail of a horse but not a horse"; "the tail of a donkey, the head of a horse, the hoofs of a cow, the antlers of a deer"; "the neck of a camel, the hoofs of a cow, the tail of a donkey, the antlers of a deer"; "the antlers of a deer, the head of a horse and the body of a cow".

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Snow Mountains”: Guo Xi. 11th Century. Public domain.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

After Lunch

After Lunch

after the meal: doze off for one nap;
waking, it’s time for two bowls of tea—
raise my head to gaze at the sun; it’s
already turned southwest, light slanting—
those who are glad rue the urgent sun;
those who grieve hate the distant new year—
those knowing neither grief nor gladness
bear life, long or short, to the far shore

translation © Jack Hayes 2018
based on Bai Juyi: 食後
Shí Hòu

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Excerpts from Bai Juyi's "Biography of a Master of Drunken Poetry": calligraphy by Fujiwara no Yukinari(972 – 1028); detached section of a handscroll mounted as a hanging scroll; ink on paper – early 11th century.
Public domain

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Moon Poem

Moon Poem

perched on the highest peak I gaze
in all directions without end—
no one knows I sit here alone;
orphan moon shines on the cold stream,
but there’s no moon within the stream:
the moon’s after all in blue skies—
I recite this scrap of a song,
but in the song, no trace of Zen

translation © Jack Hayes 2018
based on Hanshan

For more on Hanshan (literally “Cold Mountain”) see this Wikipedia page.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:

“The Immortal Hanshan”: Attributed to Jiang Gui; c 1500 – Hanging scroll, ink on silk.

Public domain

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On The Highest Tower In White Emperor Castle

On The Highest Tower In White Emperor Castle

on the walls the way’s sharp, narrow: in waning sun, pennants
signal mourning—
one stands alone on the misty tower’s soaring heights—

in the gorge cleft: cloud and fog where dragon and tiger sleep—
the sun-drenched Yangzi enfolds roaming turtles and alligators

western limbs of the Fusang Tree meet this severed stone;
eastern shadow of the Ruo River accompanies its long current

what son of man leans on his gooesfoot cane sighing for this
he weeps blood into thin air, turns his white head away

translation © Jack Hayes 2018
based on Du Fu: 白帝城最高樓
báidìchéng zuì gāo lóu

Note: This is a much more conventional reading of a poem Sheila Graham-Smith & I worked on (& posted) earlier.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Temple of the White Emperor, Baidicheng: photo by Wiki user Tomasz Dunn, [] who makes it available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. []

Friday, December 22, 2017

Three Poems for Chang’e


on the candlelit mica screen, a distant shadow;
Heaven's River ebbs slowly, the morning star sinks low—

Chang’e must regret stealing the elixir of life:
blue of sea, blue of sky, her dark heart, night after night

translation © Jack Hayes 2017
based on Li Shangyin: 嫦娥

Mid-Autumn Moon

insects hidden under grass, frost atop the leaves;
a vermilion balcony presses against the bright lake—

the Rabbit chilled, the Toad cold, the Cassia blossoms white:
this night must be gut-wrenching for Chang’e

based on Li Shangyin: 月夕
yuè xī

Frost Moon

once expeditionary geese are heard, cicadas fall silent;
the hundred-foot tower connects river and sky—

Blue Maiden and White Lady both can endure cold;
in the moon, within frost, they compete in beauty

based on Li Shangyin:  霜月
shuāng yuè 

This set of translations would be more appropriate for the Mid Autumn Festival, Zhōngqiū Jié, which is the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox. But rather wait until next September, I’m posting them now.

We have no way of knowing whether Li Shangyin intended these poems as a complementary set or as distinct & individual compositions. James JY Liu in his seminal work on the poet, The Poetry of Li Shang-yin: Ninth-Century Baroque Chinese Poet, does place the poems together & discuss them as a group. Poet David Young also places the poems together under the title “Three for the Goddess of the Moon” in his Five T'ang Poets. Since Young is a poet & not a Sinologist, I assume in grouping the poems together he is following Liu either directly or at second or third hand.

For more information on the Chang’e myth, see the Wikipedia page. Briefly, Chang’e stole the elixir of immortality & flew to the moon, where she lives with a rabbit (or hare) who pounds herbs into the elixir of immortality with a mortar & pestle & a three-legged toad. There is also a cassia tree on the moon in this myth. Chang’e is the “White Lady” mentioned in the third poem (素娥, sù é), while the Blue Maiden (青女, qīng nŭ) is Qing Nu, the Goddess of Frost & Winter.

As is the case with almost all the Chinese translations, grateful acknowledgment is due to Sheila Graham-Smith, who did a marvelous job of elucidating the first line of the first poem.

Image links to it source on Wiki Commons:
Chang'e flees to the moon: from Yoshitoshi’s 100 Aspects of the Moon. (1885-1892)
Public domain.

Monday, December 18, 2017

In the Classical Style

In the Classical Style

this lifetime passes, a wandering guest;
this death, like someone who returns home—

an upstream journey between earth and heaven,
then the grief of dust across ten thousand years—

the moon rabbit grinds the elixir in vain,
the tree of life already turns to kindling—

white bones lie desolate, without voice,
while dark pines rejoice, sensing springtime—

ahead there’s sighing, behind there’s sighing too:
this glory of a brief day, what’s it worth

translation © Jack Hayes 2017
based on Li Bai: 拟古
nĭ gŭ

This poem has been titled “Old Dust” in other English translations, though that isn’t the meaning of the characters passed down in Chinese tradition as a title: 拟古. It’s worth noting in this context that Li Bai has a series of fifty poems titled古風 (gŭ fēng), which might be translated as “Antiquity”, or “Ancient Airs” or “After the Classics” or some similar phrase. Victor Mair has translated the whole sequence in his excellent Four Introspective Poets, & Paula Varsano has translated a number of the poems in her study, Tracking the Banished Immortal: The Poetry of Li Bo and Its Critical Reception. My sense is that Li Bai in this poem is also deliberately looking back to his classical predecessors.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Sunset at Mt Tai in Shandong province, China, January 2005. Photo by Wiki Commons user Pfctdayelise, who makes the image available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic, 2.0Generic & 1.0 Generic licenses.

Friday, December 15, 2017



in the fourth watch the mountains spew up the moon,
in night’s remains, waters illuminate the tower—

in essence, a dusty case revealing a mirror,
curtains raising themselves in gusts to the topmost hook—

the Rabbit ought to ponder my crane-white hair,
but the Toad only longs for my sable coat—

I mull over the Widow Lady Chang-E,
how she bears the chill of the ninth month

translation © Jack Hayes 2017
based on Du Fu:

Chang-E is the Moon Goddess, & her companions are the Jade Rabbit (or Hare), who pounds herbs into the elixir of immortality, as well as a Toad, often depicted with three legs. Chang-E pilfered the herbs of immortality from her husband, the mythical archer Yi, & flew to the moon. In poetry, she is often a figure for loneliness.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Tang dynasty (618-906) bronze mirror with moon goddess and rabbit design. Photo by Wiki user Hiart [link provided on Common is empty], who publishes it under the following license: This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.