Border Songs, 3 of 4, Lu Lun

Lu Lun Border Songs

Lu Lun Border Songs, 3 of 4

Three of four, border songs of the leader, by Lu Lun.

The title – 塞 下 曲 四 首 之 三

The first two Chinese characters, 塞 下, rhyme, sài and xià, denoting the critical juncture where civilization ends and one passes into foreign lands.

The poem falls in the genre of border songs or frontier songs. These poems take place at strategic passes, on the western border with Tibet or on the northern borders with Turkic tribes. The scene might be a mountain pass or underneath the wall built to keep out the invaders.

The third character is the Chinese equivalent of song, qū.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth characters are beautifully fricative assonants, sì, shǒu, zhī.

The poem –
月 黑 雁 飛 高
單 于 夜 遁 逃
欲 將 輕 騎 逐
大 雪 滿 弓 刀

Rhyme: Gāo, táo, zhú, dāo (aaba)

A dark moon, the wild geese fly high (gāo)
At night, the Mongol chieftain escapes and flees (dùn táo)
Wishing, willing, lightly clad, we hunt the enemy
In snow piled high to our bows and swords (dāo)

The battle is with the nomadic Xiongnu tribes to the north of China. Generally, they are identified as Mongols, sometimes Huns, sometimes Tukic tribes. The chieftain has fled and while the wild geese scatter underneath a dark moon, the enemy flees, hunted down by lightly clad Chinese cavalry. They carry bow and arrow and the dāo, a single-edged Chinese sword, convenient for slashing and chopping at close range.

French translation

La lune, c’est noire, les oies sauvages volent haut et loin
La nuit, les Turcs s’échappent et fuient
Souhaitant, désireux, légèrement vêtus, nous les chassons
Avec la neige jusqu’à nos arcs et couteaux

Lu Lun

Lu Lun, was a poet of the Middle Tang Dynasty, who was born circa 737 in Fanyang, and died circa 788. The An Lushan Rebellion (755-763) affected his career path as it did many of the poets. Though the Tang Dynasty withdrew from Central Asia after the rebellion was put down, the interest in earlier military success on the frontier remained strong.  The frontier landscape was harsh, the mountains tall and desolate, the rivers cold, the desert dry and unforgiving, the garrison troops were, in the main, lonely and suffering, but by will and successful generalship, they overcame the Tibetans at the western frontiers and the Turkic nomads on the north.

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Border Songs, 1 of 4, Lu Lun

Within the benefit of time, further research, and thought, I will rewrite this poem.

It appears now that the poem is about the exploits of General Li Guang (Western Han dynasty) who fought against the northern Xiongnu tribe and died 119 BC.

 

Dunhuang_Zhang_Yichao_army

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

Border Songs, One of four

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.

Little is known of his career.

Lu Lu’s death is variously reported as circa 788 to 800.
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Taking Leave of Friends on my Way to Huazhou – Du Fu

Lost, all is lost, and yet, life goes on…

The title of the poem is usually translated as, Taking Leave of Friends on my Way to Huazhou. Du Fu simply calls it Huazhou (華 州), a city in Shaanxi Province, where Du Fu would take a short-lived post.

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