Meeting a messenger headed east
As I look down the road, I long for my home far to the east,
A clock sounds, my sleeves are wet with tears
On horse we meet, and I no paper, no pen
So, I rely on a gentleman’s word, tell them all is safe and calm
Gone for years, I long for my home to the east
The imperial bell sounds, my sleeves are wet with tears
On horses we meet, and I no paper, nor brush
So, I am relying on you to say, all is calm, have no fear.
Original Chinese by Cen Can, 岑 參
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 Cen Can
Cen Can or Cen Shen, also called Cen Jiazhou (715–770).
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 Cen Can 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 Cen Can
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.