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

Farewell – Wang Wei

Wang Wei, 王維

Wang_Wei_left

Farewell

In the hills we said farewell, as
The setting sun fell on my cottage door
Next spring, shall the grass be green again
Should the emperor return or not return?

French Translation

Au Revoir

Dans les collines que nous avons dit au revoir et
Comme le coucher de soleil fermé ma porte chalet
Au printemps prochain, est-ce l’herbe verte encore
Doit l’empereur retour ou non retour?

German Translation

Aufwiedersehen
In den Bergen haben wir gesagt, Aufwiedersehen, und
Der Sonnenuntergang geschlossen auf meiner Haustür
Im nächsten Frühjahr wird das Gras wieder grün, und
Du, mein Herr, zurückkehrt oder nicht zurück?

Original Chinese by Wang Wei, 王維

送別

山中相送罷
日暮掩柴扉
春草明年綠
王孫歸不歸

Spanish Translation

En las colinas nos despedimos, como
El sol poniente cayó sobre la puerta de mi casa
La próxima primavera, será la hierba verde de nuevo
¿Debería el emperador regresar o no regresar?

Notes.

Perhaps I rushed this translation as I was in a hurry, and I did not give it the time it deserved.

I have a tendency to believe that goodbyes are long and farewells, short.

The title is straight forward – farewell. In French and German can one question the translation. “Adieu” works as well in French, but “a bientot” is hopeful. In German, I have used the familiar “aufwiedersehen”, but could have used the colloquial “tschüss” as well, while “bis bald” would be similar to the French “a bientot”.

To whom is the poem written?

The poem is clearly a sad farewell, about whether the two shall meet again. But to whom is it written.

The best translation for 王孫 is noble friend, but as I will explain later, this is not entirely clear. Perhaps understanding the circumstances of the parting sheds some light on the mystery.

On the one hand, it can be imagined that the farewell came at the end of a long memorable day. Two friends shared much and only took their parting at the setting of the sun.

The other possibility is that the farewell was rushed. War intervened, to be exact, the An Lushan Rebellion, and rebel forces threatened the imperial seat at Chang’an. While the emperor and his retinue fled south to Sichuan, Wang Wei, sick with dysentery, stayed behind, and he was captured by the rebels. When Wang Wei recovered, the rebels took him to their capital at Louyang, where he was forced to collaborate.

The emperor’s forces would eventually retake the capital and defeat the rebels, and Wang Wei was for a time treated as a traitor.

Last line

王孫歸不歸.

The last line of Wang Wei’s poem is packed with meaning.

The first character is Wang’s surname, and the character for lord or emperor. The second character , is literally sun. Combined the two characters may refer to: 1. the poet Wang as a descendant of his own honorable ancestors, 2. the emperor as “sun king”, or, 3. a noble person, and one on who Wang Wei would have sought patronage.

There are several ways of saying emperor in Chinese, including 天王. Wang’s 王孫 is not one of those ways, so we are left with the question as to whom Wang is saying farewell. The Chinese character 孫, the sun, and its obvious connection to spring and the green grass, returning or not returning.

In English, it is not uncommon to say, “You are the sunshine of my life.”

The last three characters of the last line are 歸不歸, literally “return or not return”, and I have kept the translation as it is.

Wang Wei’s name – 王維

Wang Wei’s Chinese name 王維 is itself an interesting play on words.

The first character 王 appears in the poem’s last line. It has several translations including “sun” or “lord”. The second character is 維, which may translate as “maintain” or “preserve”.

Does Wang Wei ask if he may maintain or preserve his family honor, or keep his place in the sun?

winding-river