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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. Please do note, however, that this blog no longer accepts anonymous comments. All comments are moderated. Thanks for your patience.