Two golden orioles sing in the emerald green willow,
One row of white egrets fly in the blue sky.
From my window to the west, I spy the snowy mountains of Xiling,
From my door to the east, come ships from far away.
A Pair of Golden Orioles Sing
Even the simplest poems present a challenge to the translator.
While we read the poet’s words, we do not see with his eyes, a two golden orioles, huangli. No doubt a pair, perched in the emerald-green willow, cuì liǔ. Are they courting, or have they mated, and now they feed their young?
Overhead a row of snowy egrets graceful in the sky. Perhaps, they are a symbol of purity, patience, and long life? And more, …perhaps, in the egrets, báilù, we recognize Du Fu’s fellow poets coming to seek his counsel.
We do not sense the distance to the snowy Xiling mountains that Du Fu views from his window. Nor do we appreciate that in the recent past An Lushan had come from the distant far away, qian qiu, north.
A life of study – hán chuāng
For those interested in chronology, we can date this poem to the period when Du Fu took up residence in Chengdu. For starters, this is December of 759 AD, when, trying to avoid the vicissitudes of war and political intrigue, he built a thatched cottage. In 762 he left because of a rebellion but returned in 764, and left the following year.
Life is not always easy. The poet knows that a life of strenuous studies, hán chuāng 寒窗, is what it takes. This applies to the translator as well.
Pinyin and Chinese
Liǎng gè huánglí míng cuì liǔ
Yīxíng báilù shàng qīngtiān.
Chuāng hán xī lǐng qiānqiū xuě
Mén pō dōng wú wànlǐ chuán.
两 个 黄 鹂 鸣 翠 柳
一 行 白 鹭 上 青 天。
窗 含 西 岭 千 秋 雪
门 泊 东 吴 万 里 船。