Lu Lun – Border Songs

Dunhuang_Zhang_Yichao_army

General Zhang Yichao’s victory over the Tibetan Empire, 848. Wikipedia image

At the border, One out of a multitude

Eagle feathers hang from his golden arrow
His silk flag flutters like the tail of a swallow.
One man, arising, gives a new order and
A thousand battalions, with one shout, Hi-yo!

塞 下 曲 四 首 之 一

鷲 翎 金 僕
燕 尾 繡 蝥 弧
獨 立 揚 新 令
千 營 共 一 呼

Lu Lun was born around 748 in Shangxi Province. The one-character abbreviation for the province is 晋, Jin. This is also the fifth character in the title that precedes the poem. Thus, this may be a subtle reference to Lu’s home or to Lu Lun receiving his Jinshi degree.

The genre is called Frontier Poetry or Border Songs, which hearken back to happier times, when the Tang dynasty subjugated the Göktürks in the north or defeated the Tibetan armies in the west. China was at the height of its glory. The inclusion of the character 晋 (Jin) suggests that this is about a life or death struggle with the Göktürks.

This is the first in a series of four border songs by Lu Lun.

The Title

塞 下 曲 四 首 之 一

I confess to being stymied by the title. It seems to begin with the two characters, 塞 下, meaning at the border, or underneath the border wall. Then, the next two characters, 曲 四, suggest the characters for song of four, which may be an allusion to an ancient Chinese board game and a life or death struggle. A simpler explanation is that there are four Beyond the Border Songs included in the Tang 300.

I do know that it ends with the two characters:

之 一, zhī yī, One out of a multitude.

Most anthologies of the Tang 300 poems give the title as “Border Songs” with the appellation of its number in the series. That seems unfair.

Lu Lun stresses the importance of one man out of a multitude.

An unnamed army general is mounted on his horse, and holds in his hand the golden arrow, the emblem of his authority from the emperor. Nearby, a servant holds the campaign flag. It flutters in the wind like the swallow tail. The two images – eagle and swallow – represent the general and his army.

The warriors wait expectantly. The general, gazing upon the enemy and then back at his warriors, gives his battle command, and thousands of warriors respond as one.

“Hi-yo. Go all out!”

The rhyming pattern of the poem is aaba (Gū hú lìng hū), but there is also a significant amount of internal rhyme. This is important to convey the poets meaning that an army must fight in unison.

Lu Lun, like many of the other well-known Tang poets, became caught up in the An Shi Rebellion, which prevented from assuming his governmental appointment, after successfully receiving his Jinshi degree.

Lu Lu’s relatively early death in 788 is unexplained.

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Taking Leave of Friends on my Way to Huazhou – Du Fu

Lost, all is lost, I keep thinking. Still, life goes on, and yet…

Translators have given Du Fu’s poem the name Taking Leave of Friends on my Way to Huazhou. Du Fu simply called it, 華 州 or Hua Zhou, the city in Shaanxi Province where Du Fu had taken a short-lived post as Commissioner of Education.

Lost, all is lost.

What is lost in the translation is the complexity and beauty of the rhyming pattern and the several allusions that make this poem mysterious and inviting.

The overall rhyme is aaaabaca. There is also a significant amount of internal rhyme that adds to the musicality of the words and emotions. For instance, in the first three lines we have these characters:

line one: 昔, xi, meaning past or former times.
line two: 西, xī, meaning West, referring to western regions
line three: 至, zhi, a verb, meaning to arrive

Now, relate these three sounds back to the poem’s title 華 州, Hua Zhou, and the poet’s name Du Fu.

Repetition, the key to meditation in Tao philosophy, and the very soul of poetry.

Alas, it is lost, lost in translation.

 

華 州

此 道 昔 歸 順
西 郊 胡 正 繁
至 今 殘 破 膽
應 有 未 招 魂
近 得 歸 京 邑
移 官 豈 至 尊
無 才 日 衰 老
駐 馬 望 千 門

Huazhou

That was the way I chose to flee
At the west of the city, a fool in the crowd
To this day, the memory of panic makes me sick
Should my soul not return
Now, the court has come back, the city is full
But the emperor sends me away again
Old and useless, my day is done, alas
For one last look at the thousand gates

Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty, was called the city of a million people and a thousand gates.

Du Fu’s official posting came late in life, from 758 to 759. This was in the midst of the An Lushan Rebellion. The rebels approached the capital from the west and the government fled. In 756, the capital fell, and panic, famine, and destruction followed. The success of the government forces against the rebels allowed a return, but Du Fu’s advice to the emperor was short-lived and in 758, Du Fu was made Commissioner of Education in Huazhou, a demotion which he resented. Soon, he moved on to Qinzhou, where he wrote approximately 60 poems, likely including this one. This stay was also short, six weeks.

There is an accompanying note to Du Fu’s poem:

In the second year of Zhide, I escaped from the capital through the Gate of Golden Light and went to Fengxiang. In the first year of Qianyuan, I was appointed as official to Huazhou from my former post of Censor. Friends and relatives gathered and saw me leave by the same gate. And I wrote this poem.

Zhide is reference to the honor shown him by the emperor, but it is also a play on words, a triple entendre.

值得
zhí de
to be worthy, deserving

只得
zhǐ dé
to have no alternative but to, obliged to

至德
zhì dé
splendid virtue, majestic moral character, great kindness

Meeting a Messenger on his Way to the Capital

Meeting a messenger headed east

I look down the road and I long for my home, far to the east,
The clock sounds and my sleeves are wet with tears
On horse we meet, but I have no paper, no pen
So, I rely on a gentleman’s word, tell them all is safe and calm

Or,

I long for the east, I have been gone for years,
The imperial bell sounds, I find my sleeves are wet with tears.
On horses we meet, and I no paper, nor brush.
So, I am relying on you, say, all is calm, have no fear.

horse

Original Chinese by Cen Can, 岑 參

Rhyme aaba.

逢 入 京 使
故 園 東 望 路 漫 漫
雙 袖 龍 鐘 淚 不 乾
馬 上 相 逢 無 紙 筆
憑 君 傳 語 報 平 安

Notes on Can Cen

Translation is an imprecise and uncertain task.

Line one contains the characters for garden  and east (園 東), for which most translations  substitute the word homeland. In line two, the characters for imperial clock (龍 鐘) are often ignored. Line three is straight forward, “We meet by chance on horse, but I have no pen no paper.” Line four is also clear, “I rely on a gentleman to announce that all is calm and at peace.”

Can we come up with a better sense of Can Cen poem?

Far, far out at the western edge of the imperial empire, the morning sun rises in the east, the imperial clock sounds, signalling all is still well, though the poet knows trouble to be stirring.

Mounted on his horse and busy making his rounds, the poet chances to meet a messenger heading towards the capital. The poet has been shedding tears, whether for fear or longing, we do not know.

Having no pen, no paper, he asks that that the messenger say all is calm and peaceful.

Cen Can held a military assignment in the Northwest Territories. For this reason, perhaps he is speaking of the Tibetan threat. But it is also possible he is speaking of a threat from the north. During the revolt of General An Lushan and the An Shi Rebellion (755 through 763), Cen Can remained a loyalist throughout almost decade long rebellion, the capture of the capital, its recapture, and the defeat of the rebels.

Cen Can was friend to Gao Shi and Du Fu, both of whom he mentions in separate poems; as well as Li Bai, who mentions Cen Can in one of his poems.

French translation, Meeting with a messenger headed east, by Can Cen

Rencontrer un messager dirigé vers l’est 

Loin d’ici, dans l’est j’aimerais soit,
La cloche impériale sonne, mes manches sont mouillé de larmes
Chez les chevaux, nous nous rencontrons,
Et je n’ai pas de papier ni de pinceau.
Je compte sur vous, pour dire, tout est calme, ne craint pas.

Deer Park

Wang_Shimin-After_Wang_Wei's_Snow_Over_Rivers_and_Mountains_detail

 

Deer Park

A lonely mountain keeps its secrets
Yet, I hear someone speaking softly
Where light shines in the forest deep
And the sun delights in seeking green moss

鹿 柴

空 山 不 見 人
但 聞 人 語 響
返 景 入 深 林
復 照 青 苔 上

Rhyme: abab

Words fail me. Trying to capture the meaning and sound of the poem Deer Park by Wang Wei (王維 699–761) is an impossible task. Better to stand alone in the forest and listen to the silence.

Twenty characters in a rhyming pattern – abab. In the dark forest, the silence is profound. The poet is alone, and yet he hears a voice. Streaming through the pine trees is a ray of sunlight shining on a mossy grove where a deer has slept the night before.

The muse of poetry speaks.

Wang Wei is a Tang poet who is equally well known for his painting and calligraphy. This particular poem is part of the Lantian collection, written after the An-Shi Rebellion (variously spelled, Anshi or An Lushan, 755–759) and Wang Wei’s fall from grace. Wang Wei then retired to his ancestral home in Lantian County in the province of Shangxi.

The title of the poem 鹿 柴 (Lu chai) translates best as Deer Park. The second character literally translates “to fence; to surround and protect with a wooden fence,” so sometimes the poem is called Deer Enclosure.

Wang Wei was a student of Buddhism. Therefore, he may be alluding to Deer Park in Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh India, the site of the sacred Bodhi Tree where Gautama Buddha received his enlightenment and preached his first sermon.

French translation

Une montagne solitaire garde ses secrets
Seulement et doucement, un parle, j’entends
Et le soleil recherche la mousse verte
Où la lumière brille dans la forêt profond

German translation

Ein einsamer Berg behält seine Geheimnisse
Allein man spricht, etwas höre ich
Wo die Sonne sucht nach grünem Moos
Wo das Licht im tiefen Wald leuchtet

Wang_Shimin-After_Wang_Wei's_Snow_Over_Rivers_and_Mountainsa

Deer Park

The golden gown

frames_gold

The golden gown

Cherish not your gowns of golden threads
Cherish your youth instead
And pick the blossoms as they bloom
Delay not, too soon they will be gone

金 縷 衣

勸 君 莫 惜 金 縷 衣
勸 君 惜 取 少 年 時
花 開 堪 折 直 須 折
莫 待 無 花 空 折 枝

Du Qiuniang

Some say, Du Qiuniang (杜 秋娘) was a concubine of Emperor Emperor Xianzong (born 778, rule began 805 – death, 820) and a political advisor. She was also a skilled poet and beautiful. After the emperor’s death, she tried to counsel the new and young emperor, but found herself embroiled in palace intrigue for favor and power. She was forced out and fortunate to return to her native Zhenjiang 鎮江 in Jiangsu Province.

Others say she was the wife of another poet.

If you are searching, also look for Du Qiu Niang and Du Qiu-Niang.

One can see from the original Chinese text that Du Qiuniang employed constant repetition of words and phrases.

The title is itself repeated in the first line. Also, the admonition to cherish not and to cherish begin lines one and two. The symbol for blossom is repeated in lines three and four. So too, the symbol 折 which may be translated as broken or gone. The poem ends with the two rhyming characters 折 枝, zhe and zhi, leaving us with the image of a broken branch and vanished blossom. 折 枝 may also be translated as a broken word or promise, giving the poem a subtle context.

Du Mu supposedly wrote a poem about her titled, The Song of Du Qiuniang.

Whoops, got to go, hope to come back…

Mixed Verse – Wang Wei

Mixed Verse

You, who come from the old country
Tell me what is happening
On that cold day you left, did you see my silken paintings, and

Were the first plum flowers blossoming yet

English translation of Wang Wei’s poem 雜 詩

The title, 雜 詩, is variously translated as mixed verse, mixed lines, miscellaneous poetry, and sometimes, simply as lines.

Wang_Wei_left

Wang Wei was famous for both his poetry and his paintings. And three hundred years after Wang Wei wrote these few lines of poetry, fellow Chinese poet and artist Su Shi wrote, “Wang Wei’s poems hold a painting within them.”

Well said, Shu Shi.

In a few short lines, Wang Wei has given us an image of the old country, a cold day, silken paintings, and a vision of plum flowers forever waiting to blossom.

But is Wang Wei worried for the paintings he left behind or the uncertainty of his life?

Wang Wei’s wrote this poem during during the An Lushan Rebellion. The emperor necessarily fled the capital of Chang’an, and Wang Wei, sick and ill was caught by the rebel forces. He managed to escape the following year and make his way south to rejoin the emperor, but was charged with treason for remaining behind.

Wang Wei eventually made his way back into the good graces of the emperor. Family connections helped. So too, did his poetry.

Original Chinese characters

君自故鄉來
應知故鄉事
來日綺窗前
寒梅著花未

The Chinese characters 來日 which begin the third line represent the future. In the third line, Wang Wei also uses the characters 綺 which phonetically is qi, the Chinese word for life force.

The first character of the last line is 寒. Used here it means cold, but the phonetic pronunciation is Han, the major ethnic group of China. Could it be that Wang Wei is giving us yet another image of China as a group of people threatened by the instability of the rebellion.

I must leave this and other questions to better scholars.

The last character of the poem 未 is phonetically the word Wei, also signifies the uncertainty of what is to come, leaving us no doubt that Wang Wei was writing these miscellaneous lines when the emperor was still deciding his fate.

French translation of mixed verse

Versions diverses
Monsieur, qui venant de l’ancien pays
Dites-moi ce qui se passe là-bas
Ce jour-là froid vous avez quitté, sur mes toiles soyeuses
Ont encore été les premières fleurs de pruniers fleurissent

German translation of mixed verse

Verschiedene Verse
Sie, die auch aus dem alten Land kommen
Sag mir, was dort geschieht
An diesem kalten Tag verlassen Sie, auf meine seidenen Gemälde
Waren die ersten Pflaume Blumen blühen noch?

Wang_Shimin-After_Wang_Wei's_Snow_Over_Rivers_and_Mountains

Wang Shimin imitating Wang Wei

Coming Home

He Zhizhang (659-744) was a Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty who had the good fortune to die before the An Lushan Rebellion began.

heZhizhang

He Zhizhang

It is said – I have not confirmed it – that he was both politician and poet who retired in the year 743, at age eighty-five, to become a Daoist hermit near Lake Jinghu in Zhejiang Province, his native province. If so, he returned to a place near where he was born. He (pun intended) was unlikely to have found any living relatives or friends, and so would be unrecognized by those living there. The children, finding a stranger speaking their native tongue would be curious.

Likely, this inspired his poem whose Chinese characters are:

回 鄉 偶 書

, variously translated as:

Coming Home or On Returning Home.

Small and young I left my home, big and old, I now return
Speaking in my village voice with hair grown thin
Children, seeing and hearing me, wonder, who is this man?
And smiling, ask, sir, why do you come?

Notes on the English translation.

The first two characters of the title 回 鄉 express Zhizhang’s emotion of coming home and are homophone (Huí xiāng) for his name. The first character 回 nicely expresses the idea of being a subset of a set, a part of a whole, and the temporal idea of returning to one’s place of origin. The character for native province 鄉 is coincidentally a homophone for Zuizhang’s native province of  Zhejiang.

The last two characters of the title 偶 書, often ignored in translation, contain the thought, I write.

French translation,

De retourner au pays
Petit et jeune, de ma village natale j’ai quitté , grande et ancienne je retourne
Parlant dans la voix de ma village avec des cheveux mûrs
Les enfants, me voyant, disent-ils, qui est cet homme?
Et souriant, demandez-moi, monsieur, pourquoi viens-tu?

German translation,

Rückkehr, Heimkommen
Kleine und junge mein Zuhause ich verließ, groß und alt komme ich zurück
Sprechen mit keinem Akzent, mit Haaren gewachsen dünn
Kinder, sehen mich, sagen, wer ist dieser Mann?
Und lächelnd, fragen Sie, Herr, warum kommen Sie?

Notes on the German translation

I will leave it to others to say whether Rückkehr or Heimkommen is the better choice for the title.

Spanish translation,

Not mine, someone else who has a better command of the Spanish language.

Original Chinese characters:

少小離家老大回
鄉音無改鬢毛衰
兒童相見不相識
笑問客從何處來

Clearing Rain by Du Fu

In Kansas, half way though June. Summer is not yet here, but the day time temperatures already approach 100 degrees.

Last night a violent storm blew out of the west. The news reporters spoke of straight-line winds approaching 90 miles an hour. Tree limbs fell and cars and trucks were blown off the highway. But, it rained and the farmers are grateful; for a long rain means the knee-high corn will survive the coming summer season.

In another time and place, Chinese poet Du Fu watched a similar storm and wrote a poem the following day.

lightning-2

The rain clears
(One becomes less angry in autumn)

The rain fell and the autumn clouds are thin,
The western wind has blown ten thousand li.
The morning view is good and fine,
A long rain has not hurt the land.
The willow’s leaves are turning emerald green,
On a distant hill a pear tree blazes red.
Upstairs, a flute plays,
And outside, a goose flies in the sky.

Original Chinese

雨晴
(一作秋霁)

天水秋云薄
从西万里风
今朝好晴景
久雨不妨农
塞柳行疏翠
山梨结小红
胡笳楼上发
一雁入高空

Meaning of Du Fu’s Clearing Rain

In the summer of 759, Du Fu spent about six weeks in the city of Tianshui (天水) where he wrote this poem.

Du Fu had survived the worst of the rebellion. Captured by the rebels in 756, he escaped the following year and rejoined the emperor in the south. The emperor forces recaptured the capital Chang’an. Du Fu was accused of treason for remaining behind, but cleared of the charges. Back in the emperor’s good graces he received a post as Commissioner of Education in Huazhou, which was not to his liking. It was then, in the summer of 759, that he moved on to Tianshui where he spent a short six weeks and wrote over sixty poems.

The first two Chinese characters of Du Fu’s poem translate as “sky” and “water” or combined as “rain”. The two characters also name the city Tianshui where this poem was written.

Making sense of Du Fu’s poem:

It is now the autumn of my life.

It rained last night. The skies have cleared leaving behind only a few clouds. The western wind which once overpowered the east wind has blown ten thousand miles away. The long rain has not destroyed the country. The leaves of the willow trees, though sparse, are still green. On a distant hill the leaves of a pear tree blaze red. The wars though distant still consume lives. Somewhere in the house, a single flute plays its mournful tune and above a goose flies away.

To be continued…

Back in Kansas

The morning after the storm, a cup of coffee in hand, I go outside on my back porch and survey the damage. A few weak branches have fallen from the oak tree that towers above and green leaves are scattered about. The robins are busily gathering up worms.

Inside, on the television news reporters talk of nothing but tweets.

French translation

La pluie est tombée et les nuages d’automne sont peu,
Le vent de l’ouest a soufflé dix mille li.
La matin est bonne et bien,
Une longue pluie n’a pas blessé la terre.
Les feuilles du saut tournent vert émeraude
Sur une colline éloignée, une poire flambe rouge.
Une flûte joue en haut,
Et une oie flotte sur le vent.

Jetzt auf deutsch, German translation

Der Regen fiel und die Herbstwolken sind dünn,
Der westliche wind hat zehntausend li geblasen
Die Morgenansicht ist sehr gut,
Ein langer Regen hat das Land nicht verletzt.
Die Blätter der Weide machen Smaragdgrün,
Auf einem fernen Hügel bricht ein Birnbaum rot.
Eine Flöte spielt oben,
Und eine Gans fliegt in den Himmel.

Not to be underestimated

Do not underestimate the little things in life is the simple message of this poem. To one who is weary and wet, a shack in the rain is more valuable than a palace far, far away, and coarse grain and diluted wine a feast.

shack-night

Not to Be Underestimated

Traveling, on foot with a broken-down horse
Hungry, eating food that is coarse
Thirsty, surviving on diluted wine
Famished, drinking soup that is thin
Walking, forever without a good sleep at night
Caught in the rain, catching sight of a broken-down shack

Li Shangyin’s lived (813-858) towards the end of the Tang dynasty, his life spanning the reign of five emperors. Eunuchs controlled the power of the emperors. They did not favor Li Shangyin with important appointments and he seemed to survive without great disappointment. His humble political appointments allowed him to write poems using imagery to convey his message.

Daming Palace

For over two hundred years, the Daming Palace, or Palace of ‘Great Brillance’, in the capital city of Chang’an was the glorious seat of government for the Tang Dynasty. The complex covers almost 2 square miles and has a total length of slightly under 5 miles. It contains 11 royal gates. Its principal bulding is Hanyuan Hall.

During excavations in 1957, archeologists uncovered a stone inscription commemorating the building of Hanyuan Hall in 831, an event with which Li Shangyin would have been certainly familiar.

Li_Shangyin

Li-Shangyin

Spring View, Du Fu

In December of the year 755, the An Lushan Rebellion began.

Thus, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are let loose on the Chinese Nation. Inappropriate allusion, but accurate since conquest, famine, war, and death swept the country.

Quickly, General An Lushan and his army swept down from the north and moving rapidly along the Grand Canal. Within a year later, rebel forces were at the gates of the capital Chang’an (modern Xi’an). The emperor decides to flee. Du Fu attempts to join him, but is caught by the rebels and taken back to Chang’an, where, it is said, this poem was written.

Du Fu’s view of the coming spring is conflicted. The 45-year-old Du Fu had removed his family to safety and a son was born. He certainly wanted to hear that they were safe. He was also fearful of his standing with the court in exile.

The beacon fires Du Fu speaks of were an ancient method of passing military information. In Europe, beacons were used by Romans and throughout the Napoleanic wars. The modern telegram rendered them obsolete.

fire

Spring View

A nation is broken by war, yet mountains and rivers exist
Spring comes to the city walls, where grass and trees still grow
This season it feels like blossoms are splashing like tears
I hate to depart, for the birds are scared in their hearts
Three months now, the beacon fires of war have burned
And one letter from home is worth ten thousand pieces of gold
While I scratch my white hair that has grown thin
Darken my desire not to be able to use a hairpin

Original Chinese

春望

國破山河在
城春草木深
感時花濺淚
恨別鳥驚心
烽火連三月
家書抵萬金
白頭搔更短
渾欲不勝簪

Poem explained

Du Fu had reason to fear the future. He was a married man with children to support. In 755 he received an appointment as Registrar of the Right Commandant’s Office of the Crown Prince’s Palace, a heady title but a minor post, but a start. The rebellion, the abdication of the emperor and his replacement, along with Du Fu’s capture was not a good omen. Though Du Fu was able to escape from the rebels, he was at first treated as a traitor. Though vindicated, he did not enjoy the new emperor’s full favor.

The hairpins in the last line of the poem are a metaphor for the union of two souls. Both men and women used hairpins and it was the custom in a Chinese marriage for husband and wife to exchange a hairpin.

Chang’an was taken by the rebel forces of An Lushan in 756 and much of it was destroyed. Tang forces retook it in 757. This dates Du Fu’s poem to the spring of 757, shortly before he left the city to rejoin the emperor.

French translation

Vue du printemps

Un pays brisée par la guerre, mais des montagnes et rivières existent
Le printemps arrive aux murs de la ville, et l’herbe et les arbres poussent encore
Cette saison, il semble que des fleurs éclaboussent comme des larmes
Je déteste partir, car les oiseaux ont peur dans leurs coeurs
Trois mois, les feux de guerre de la balise ont brûlé
Une lettre chez-soi vaut dix mille pièces d’or
Alors que je gratte mes cheveux blancs qui ont grossi
Obscurcir mon désir de ne pas pouvoir utiliser une épingle à cheveux

German translation

Frühlings-Ansicht
Eine Nation gebrochen, noch Berge und Flüsse existieren
Der Frühling zu den Stadtmauern kommt, wo Gras und Bäume noch wachsen
In dieser Saison es wie Blüten fühlt sich tummeln wie Tränen
Zu verlassen Ich hasse, denn die Vögel in ihren Herzen Angst haben
Drei Monate jetzt, das Feuer des Krieges verbrannt
Und ein Brief von zu Hause wert zehntausend Goldstücke
Während ich mein weißes Haar kratzen, die dünn ist gewachsen
Verdunkeln mein Wunsch, nicht in der Lage sein eine haarnadel verwenden

Du Fu

Du Fu