Return to Furong Mountain 归人 山主人

Seeking Shelter During a Snowstorm on Furong Mountain

“Day turns twilight and the dark green mountains are behind me
The cold thatched cottage is needy
I knock on the wicket gate, a dog barks
Everyone sleeps at night in a snowstorm”

Return to Furong Mountain 归 人 山主人

I have been here before, to be exact, March 6, 1019, not too long ago, when I first translated Liu Changqing’s poem.

The title has changed, it is more more alliterative. For the better, I think. One could also translate the title as “Lodging on Furong Mountain During a Snowstorm”, and that would work. One could substitute Hibiscus for Furong (for that is the meaning of 芙蓉, furong), and that would please some, not me.

As I said, I have been here before. Here is Furong Mountain.

In summer, the green mountains are covered with lovely hibiscus flowers. There is much to see – Furong Waterfall, which dazzles the eye with its droplets reflecting in the sunlight, the ancient streets of the city filled with shops of the Tujia people, Tusi Palace, Xizhou Bronze Pillar and Tujia Cave Ancestors’ Relics.

Ah, but it is winter, there is a snowstorm, everyone sleeps. Everyone, but one, the host who rises to greet his guest.

Question?

It remains for to ask why Liu Changqing is traveling to Furong Mountain in winter. Furong is far to the south in the province of Hunan. Therefore it is neither close to Suizhou, where Liu served as governor for spell, nor northern Hebei Province, Liu’s ancestral home.

One hint as to the reason for his trip comes from another poem, Looking for the Taoist monk Chang of the Southern stream. Southern stream often meant the Yangtze, and poets like Liu often made pilgrimages to the southern mountainous regions to obtain deep insight, a spiritual experience. Liu might have been seeking the monk Chang or following in the footsteps Wang Wei to whom he wrote a farewell poem on the occasion of his exile to the south.

It is important to note that the journey is the goal, not the destination. Along the way many experiences happen and a transformation begins. Perhaps Liu has been this way before, perhaps not.

Either way, we are constantly seeking a truth which is elusive, and therefore certainly worth a return trip.

Chinese Characters and Pinyin

雪夜宿芙蓉山主人

日 暮 苍 山 远,
天 寒 白 屋 贫
柴 门 闻 犬 吠
风 雪 夜 归 人

Xuě yè sù fúróng shān zhǔrén

rìmù cāngshān yuǎn
tiān hán bái wū pín
cháimén wén quǎnfèi
fēng xuě yè guī rén

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Searching Nanxi for the Reclusive Changshan Taoist, 尋南溪常山道人隱居

Searching Southern Creek (Nanxi) for the Taoist priest
Along the way, I find a footprint in the moss
A while cloud lies low upon the lake
Spring grass grows freely at the door
A heavy rain has the color of the pine trees
A mountain brook gushes from its source
And, mingling with its flowers is a truth
I have forgotten

Alternate title, Looking for the Taoist monk Chang of the Southern stream.

In Discovering a Truth, I have forgotten the Words

“Poems cannot convey the meaning of words accurately, and words cannot accurately convey thoughts.” This is the subtext of the ancient The Classic of Changes, (the I Ching). A fundamental tenet of Daoism also holds that people cannot express and access the Way (Dao) by language. And if Zhuangzi is correct, “then the purpose of the words is to express an idea, and if we get the idea we can forget the words”.

Liu Changqing (劉長卿 709–785) served the Emperor Dezong as governor of Suizhou Province.

Liu captures the essence of nature and the spirit of the Dao in his beautifully expressive mood piece of eight lines with five characters per line. The name of the monk he seeks and the place he goes to are of no substance.

A footprint in the moss marks the way, then Liu discovers that he needs nothing more than the this simple path beset by a heavy rain that obscures the forest. For the truth mingles with the flowers alongside the rushing mountain brook.

Chinese

尋南溪常山道人隱居
一路經行處,
莓苔見履痕,
白雲依靜渚,
春草閉閒門。
過雨看松色,
隨山到水源,
溪花與禪意,
相對亦忘言

Pinyin

Xún nán xī cháng shān dàoren yǐnjū

Yī lùshàng jīngguò dì dìfāng, qīngtái xiǎodào liú xià xié hén.
Báiyún yīwēi ānjìng shāzhōu, chūncǎo huánrào dào yuàn xián mén.
Xīn yǔ guòhòu sōng sè qīngcuì, xúnzhe shānlù lái dào shuǐyuán.


who, where, and why?

Parting

Dismount my friend, let me offer some wine
May I ask, where are you going?
Friend, you say, I have no purpose
To the Southern Mountains I depart
So, ask no more for
White clouds drift forever

送別

下馬飲君酒 問君何所之?
君言不得意 歸臥南山陲
但去莫復聞 白雲無盡時。

Sòngbié

Xiàmǎ yǐn jūn jiǔ, wèn jūn hé suǒ zhī?
Jūn yán bù déyì, guī wò nánshān chuí.
Dàn qù mò fù wén, báiyún wújìn shí.

白雲 báiyún, White Clouds



We are like the Clouds 云 yún, forever forming, then disappearing. 云 yún sounds the same as 运 yùn ‘luck, fortune, fate’. 時 Shí, time, endless, sounds like 诗 poem.

Please come down from your horse to have one last drink, dare I ask where you go? You said, because you have no purpose, no meaning in life, you will retire to the Nanshan Mountains. So go, I’ll ask no more, good poems, like white clouds are timeless.

The where and why are the easiest questions to answer:
歸臥南山陲 guī wò nánshān chuí, banished to (retiring to) the Southern Mountains’ frontier.

Who?

君 jūn, friend or colleague.

Perhaps, it is best to leave at that, an unnamed friend. One could guess Li Bai 李白 ( the banished immortal and well-known tippler). In 759, Li Bai was exiled by the emperor to Yelang in what is now Guizhou, a mountains region in southern China. In no hurry to reach Yelang, Li wandered much and wrote poetry, delaying so much that a pardon reached him before he arrived in far-off, frontier Yelang.

Wang Wei was likewise found in disgrace by the troubles of the An Lushan rebellion. His brother, a high imperial official, came to his defense, and Wang made his way into retirement.

Tang poet Li Bai on a Summer’s Day (19th c.), Gu Lang Yu Museum, Xiamen, Fujian, China

Mother’s Day Again

Mother’s Day is one day away, so I reprise Meng Jiao’s Song of the Wandering Son. The poem is like a multi-faceted gem, viewed differently from different angles.

The thread in the hands of a loving mother
Making clothes for her wandering son;
Carefully she stitches and sews,
Fearing delays that will keep him from home.
But how does inch-long grass
Repay the sun for three months of sunlight in spring?

pine tree on rocky mountain

The wandering son

Our wandering son is most likely a soldier called up by the emperor to campaign in the spring and the summer against the Tibetans in the far west or the Mongols to the north. The weather is bleak, the spring and summer short, winter is long and cold. The soldiers travel to a faraway land of high, grass plateaus, steep ravines, and snow-capped mountains. The sparse rains fall, gathering and forming the three of the great rivers of Asia – the Yellow, the Yangtze, and the Mekong.

The Tang soldiers confront tribesmen who are fierce warriors and splendid horsemen born to the saddle. They live upon herds of yaks, cliff-dwelling sheep, horses and the plunder they take from the caravans bound to and from China.

A loving mother

Our mother silently goes about her work closely stitching the warm coat he will need, knowing and fearing the long delay before he returns.

Notes on translation

How does the high plateau grass repay the sun for its sunlight, how does a son repay a mother for her nurturing love?

The last two lines of Meng’s poem which begins with 谁 言 Shéi yán, who said, has become a metaphor for a mother’s love.

谁 言, 寸 草 心, 报 得 三 春 晖
Shéi yán, cùn cǎo xīn, bào dé sān chūnhuī

green grass hillside solitary tree

Mother’s Day 2019

Mother’s Day is Sunday, so I thought it appropriate to repost a transaltion of Meng Jiao’s Song of the Parting Son. Some changes have occurred. I will let you decide if they appropriate.

Song of the Departing Son

The thread, in a mother’s loving hand
Sewing a coat for her departing son
Stitch by stitch, alas
Fearing his late late return

Who said, a mother’s kindness
Can’t be repaid
Or even discussed

Chinese and Pinyin

慈母手中线,
游子身上衣。
临行密密缝
意恐迟迟归
谁言寸草心
报得三春晖

Címǔ shǒuzhōng xiàn,
yóuzǐ shēnshang yī
lín xíng mì mi fèng,
yì kǒng chí chí guī.
Shéi yán cùn cǎo xīn,
bào dé sān chūnhuī.

Notes on translation

Line one, thread is an obvious metaphor for spring’s tender grass.

Lines three and four contain repetitions of characters. Line three, 密密, stitch by stitch, may also refer to the tightly stitched garment, double seamed, so as to not come unraveled. Line four 迟迟归 concerns the mother’s worry and fear over the late, late, perhaps too late return.

Lines five and six of Meg Jiao’s poem contains the idiom, 寸草 and 春晖 , cùn cǎo chūn huī, which means that the heart of the tender grass can’t repay the deep feelings of the spring sun. It is a metaphor for the parents’ and a mother’s especially deep feelings for their children.

The last line inserts character for the number three, 三 san, which does double duty, first magnifying a mother’s love by three; second as a near-rhyme and homophone, for life, 身 Shēn.

To One Unnamed 3, 无题之三

Time was, long before I met her,
but longer still, since we parted,
The east wind is powerless, for it has come

and a hundred flowers are gone,
And the silk-worms of spring will spin until they die
And every night candles will weep their wicks away.
In the morning mirror she sees her temple hair

changing the color of clouds
Chanting poems in the chill of moonlight.
Oh, it is not so very far to Penglai
O blue-birds listen, bring me what she says.

Penglai, , Yuan Jiang (袁江) 1680-1730

Interpreting Li Shangyin

This is the third of five poems Li Shangyin wrote to one unnamed.

Line one describes the difficulty of poet and the object of his poem in meeting. Time being the greatest obstacle to two lovers(?). Powerless is the East Wind 东风 Dōngfēng of spring because all its flowers have come and gone. Life will go on like the silkworm spinning, until it dies. And each night the candle wax weeps as the wick fades away.

The poet’s unnamed muse sees herself in the mirror. She sees the silver hairs growing at her temples. Still she chants her poems in the chill of moonlight 月光 Yuèguāng .

It is not far to Never-never land

That is how one would translate 蓬莱 Pénglái . In Chinese mythology it is a mythical island, home to the Eight Immortals, where there is no pain and no winter; where rice bowls and wine glasses never become empty no matter how much people eat or drink; and where enchanted fruits grow that can heal any ailment, grant eternal youth, and raise the departed.

Chinese

无题之三

相见时难别亦难
东风无力百花残
春蚕到死丝方尽
蜡炬成灰泪始干
晓镜但愁云鬓改
夜吟应觉月光寒
蓬莱此去无多路
青鸟殷勤为探看

Pinyin

Wútí zhī sān

xiāng jiàn shí nán
bié yì nán dōngfēng wúlì bǎihuā cán
chūncán dào sǐ sī fāng jǐn
là jù chéng huī lèi shǐ gàn
xiǎo jìng dàn chóu yúnbìn gǎi
yè yín yīng jué yuèguāng hán
pénglái cǐ qù wú duō lù
qīngniǎo yīnqín wèi tàn kàn

Farmhouse on the Wei River, Wang Wei 王 維

Wei River Farmhouse
The light at dusk cast shadows on the old grave stones
The ox and sheep return down the shabby lane
In the field an old shepherd reads to his son
Leaning on a cane, waiting at the thorny entrance
In the wheat stocks, I hear the crow of a ringed neck pheasant
Silkworms sleep in the half-eaten mulberry leaves
And the farmers return with hoes on their shoulders
Greeting each other with familiar words
I draw near in envy of their idleness and leisure
Regretfully chanting this little poem
Ah, to go back again

The Golden Hour

The Tang Dynasty was considered China’s Golden Age. The An Lushuan Rebellion came and went and changed all this and nothing would ever be the same.

Charges of disloyalty were lodged against Wang Wei, but dropped. Wishing to escape the limelight, China’s superstar poet and artist became a devout Buddhist and took time to travel and record nature’s beauty.

The scene – a farm house in poor village along the Wei River. It is the hour before sunset, the golden hour to photographers and poets. It is a magical time when everything takes on a golden hue.

Wang tries to record the scene before the sun sets and all disappears. He is walking down an old lane leaving the village. The slanted light (line one, 斜光) on the gravestones (墟, grave) stir thoughts of his mortality. The ox and sheep shuffle down the shabby lane. In the field is an old shepherd and his son. A pheasant stirs in the wheat. And the farmers idly chat.

The poet nostalgically (line 8, 依依, yīyī ) draws near.

渭川田家

斜光照墟落

窮巷牛羊歸

野老念牧童

倚杖候荊扉

雉雊麥苗秀

蠶眠桑葉稀

田夫荷鋤立

相見語依依

即此羨閒逸

悵然吟式微

又作至

Wèi chuāntián jiā
xié guāngzhào xū luò
qióng xiàng niú yáng guī
yělǎo niàn mùtóng
yǐ zhàng hòu jīng fēi
zhì gòu màimiáo xiù
cán mián sāng yè xī
tiánfū hè chú lì
xiāng jiàn yǔ yīyī
jí cǐ xiàn xián yì
chàngrán yín shìwēi
yòu zuò zhì

china bike alongside river and mountains

Old poems like old friends

Thought One of Four Poems
A lonely swan comes from the sea
Daring not to land on lake or pond
Looking aside, he spies a kingfisher pair
Three nesting on a pearled tree
Bravely at the tree’s top
Have they no fear of stones?
For those clothed in beauty invite people pointing
And the mighty face an evil god
And the admiration of hunters’ desires

Old friends, old poems

“Old poems are like old friends,” wise men say. “You should visit them from time to time.” We last visited Zhang Jiluing in November of last year. Then he gave us his first thought about his fall from power in 737.

I have reproduced it above.

kingfisher

Chinese

感遇四首之一

孤鴻海上來
池潢不敢顧
側見雙翠鳥
巢在三珠樹
矯矯珍木巔
得無金丸懼
美服患人指
高明逼神惡
弋者何所慕

Zhang Jiuling

Zhang, you may or may not recall, was a noted poet and scholar, titled the Count Wenxian of Shixing, deputy head of the legislative bureau of government, then chancellor to the Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty.

But a chancellor’s good advice is not always well received.

In 736, General Zhang Shougui suffered a loss in battle because his subordinate General An Lushan failed to follow orders. An, who was of of Sogdian and Göktürk origin, was ordered to appear in front of the emperor to hear his fate. Zhang favored execution, saying that An was likely to commit treason again. The emperor disregarded his advice and Am remained a general. A year later, Zhang was demoted and died in 740.

Zhang’s prediction proved accurate. In 755 General An Lushan revolted and Emperor Xuanzong was forced to flee the capital.

Notes on translation

巢在三珠樹 Cháo zài sān zhūshù, Three nesting in a pearl tree or nesting in three pearl trees? I lean toward the conclusion that three are a crowd, and two of the emperor’s advisors ganged up against Zhang.

The beautiful bird in fancy feathers should beware.. Tian-tsui is an ancient Chinese art featuring kingfisher feathers and using the iridescent blue feathers of kingfisher birds as an inlay for art objects and articles of adornment, such as hairpins, headdresses, and fans.

Part 3, Waking from a Stupor on a Spring Day (春日醉起言志) Li Bai

Touched by the beauty of the bird’s song, I sigh,
Turning to my wine, I pour
Awaiting the moon with a grand song, I sing
Singing to the end, unmoved

Li Bai, Waking from a Stupor on a Spring Day, third and final verse

Life, a story in three acts

Is this the way life ends, with a song, then silence?

In part one we find our poet lying in a drunken stupor outside the palace door. Morning dawns, he awakes clutching a porch column, to see the beauty of the garden flowers. In part two, he hears the song of a warbler and is entranced. Poets like prostitutes sing and dance when the moon is out, but what does it mean?

In part three, we conclude.

Touched by the beauty of the bird’s song, he turns to his wine and drinks. Awaiting the evening and moon, he sings a great song, until the end, emptied of sentiment, he remains unmoved.

Let this be a poem lesson. Drinking all night will put you outside with what’s left of your wine, a song, and then, nothing.

Hao Ge, 浩歌

Our third verse presages 浩歌 Hao Ge, a poem by the Tang poet Li He (circa. 790–791 – 816–817), who likewise found wine and women irresistible and died at the early age of 26 or 27. Hao Ge, literally means “grand song”, one addressed to the universe. Max Ehrmann’s popular 20th century example “Desiderata” is a comparison that comes to mind.

Li Bai’s life ended, the story is told, when he fell from his boat, alone and drunk, trying to grasp the moon’s reflection in the water.

moon, boat, water, Li Bai

Notes on translation

感 Gǎn, touched, sensing
感之 Gǎn zhī, a sense of it
嘆息 tàn xī, breathe a sigh
酒 Jiǔ, wine, spirits
浩歌 Hao Ge, compound word meaning song of the universe, grand song
歌 ge, sing, song, praise
忘情 wàngqíng, unmoved, lacking sentiment

Chinese and Pinyin

感之欲嘆息 對酒還自傾
浩歌待明月 曲盡已忘情

Gǎn zhī yù tànxí duì jiǔ hái zì qīng
hào gē dài míngyuè qū jìn yǐ wàngqíng


Part 2, Waking from a Stupor on a Spring Day (春日醉起言志) Li Bai

Yesterday, we left super-poet Li Bai alone on the porch, drunk, clutching a column, lying in a stupor after a night of revelry and wine. Morning breaks and he comes to his senses, or does he?

Yesterday’s verse

a yellow leaf warbler

Coming to my sense, I see the courtyard
In the midst of the flowers a bird sings
Is it time to ask this question,
In Spring, why does the warbler sing to the breeze?

Li Bai

Words matter

Li Bai, if words matter, and I am told they do, you are playing with us like a musician plays a zither, a sound may mean many things.  Imagine Li Bai plopped outside the door as morning comes, pear blossoms are dancing in the wind, a warbler sings.

What does he think?

Poets, like brightly colored prostitutes and whores, ply their trade. They dance and sing, and when the morning comes they rest in bed. Still, a lonely warbler sings, to whom and what?

Yesterday is far away, in fact its gone. Li Bai, our super-star, once the darling of the Imperial court, finds himself on the outside, staring in, singing to the breeze, surrounded by the flowers.

Notes on translation

庭, ting, courtyard
鸣, ming, cry or sing
春风 chūn fēng, as compound word, spring wind; singularly, in spring, the wind
时, shi, the season, or time; a homophone for poem or verse, 诗
莺, ying, a warbler, also possibly a golden oriole
柳莺, liǔyīng, willow warbler; leaf warbler, a colorful bird with yellow markings that nests in spring; literally a prostitute.

Chinese and pinyin

觉来眄庭, 一鸟花间鸣
借问此何时, 春风语流莺

Jué lái miǎn tíng, yī niǎo huā jiān míng
jièwèn cǐ hé shí, chūnfēng yǔ liú yīng