New Years Eve – Cui Tu

[This is a revision of an earlier translation in December of 2017.]

Increasingly remote are the three roads to ancient Ba
Dangerous and strange for one who has traveled ten thousand li.
At night, in the midst of the jagged snowy mountains,
A lonely man is isolated and faraway from kin.

(A lonely man so different from the Xiang people)
Gradually, grows distant from his blood relations;
Time and time again, growing closer to his servants.
How, I dread to drift so far when
Tomorrow, the new year comes.

Cui Tu

Little is known of the Chinese poet Cui Tu other than his date of birth – 854, and the fact that only two of his poems are included in the Anthology of 300 Tang Poems, a book which was first compiled in 1763.

We do know that the Tang dynasty collapsed in 907. We are also aware of a rebellion lasting a decade (874–884) that resulted in the sacking of both capitals at Chang’an and Luoyang.

Needless to say, the times were turbulent. Cui Tu was possibly fleeing for his life to the relative security of mountainous Sichuan. Something, the imperial court did in times of danger. The mention of Ba in the first line, and the prefix of three, (Sanba 三巴 ) is throwback to the ancient State of Ba, which was located in eastern Sichuan. The literal meaning of ba is to cling, which describes the position of the dynasty at that time in history.

I have given an alternate translation to line four since Xiang may also refer to the Xiang people.

Piāobó, in line seven is interesting as it suggests that Cui Tu will take on the life of a wanderer, drifting from here to there.

What will the New Year Bring?

Good question. Since the Tang dynasty was on its last legs, the answer is likely, not much.

New Year’s Eve is all about ringing out the old and ringing in the new, or, if you like, bringing in the new, throwing out the old. Old friends die, we make new friends, and Cui Tu must of found himself clinging to his servants not only to survive, but for comfort.

Original Chinese and Pinyin

Tiáo dì sān bā lù,
jī wēi wànlǐ shēn
luàn shān cánxuě yè

gūdú yì xiāng rén
jiàn yǔ gǔròu yuǎn
zhuǎn yú tóngpú qīn
nà kān zhǐ piāobó
míngrì suì huá xīn

迢遞三巴路
羈危萬里身
亂山殘雪夜
孤獨異鄕人
漸與骨肉遠
轉於僮僕親
那堪止漂泊
明日歲華新

A lonely wild goose

A strange comparison indeed, Cher sings, Sooner or later, We all Sleep Alone, and Cui Tu’s poem, A Solitary Wild Goose, the story of a wandering wild goose, woefully crying, seeking a home.

A lonely wild goose

line after line after line after line
flies back over the border
and you, by yourself, saying its fine
as it rains
evening comes and you call
with no answer
so, you alight at night, slowly
on an icy and frozen pond, above
faster than you clouds, heavy and wet, move
towards the mountains and wintry moon…
if you suffered the archer’s arrow and streamer,
could it be worse than going alone?

Cui Tu (traditional Chinese) was born in 854. His death went unrecorded. His lifetime spanned the events leading up to the end of the Tang dynasty in 907, natural disasters — alternate floods and drought – accompanied by major rebellions.

Twice yearly, Cui Tu must have observed the annual migration of the wild geese. In the spring, when the weather warms, the geese fly north, line after line, beyond the mountains, beyond the northern borders, beyond the purple passes to a foreign land, to a place beyond the ken of the poet. This migration is then repeated in the winter when the geese return, and fly south in search of a warmer and safer home.

Woe, the solitary goose cries out to his fleeing companions and attempts to bear the cold northern winds alone.

Original Chinese Characters –

孤雁

几行归塞尽
片影独何之
暮雨相呼失
寒塘欲下迟
渚云低暗渡
关月冷相随
未必逢矰缴
孤飞自可疑

Pinyin

Jǐ xíng guī sāi jǐn,

piàn yǐng dú hé zhī?

Mùyǔ xiāng hū shī,

hán táng yù xià chí.

Zhǔ yún dī àn dù,

guān yuè lěng xiāng suí.

Wèibì féng zēng jiǎo,

gū fēi zì kěyí

An examination of the pinyin, reveals an abundance of rhyme that is lost in translation. I have also abandoned form and structure in a attempt to give the poem some of Cui Tu’s resonance.

What, you ask, does any of this have to do with Cher? It is obvious to the wild goose and Cher.

beach_sit

Thoughts on New Years Eve – Cui Tu

The Tang dynasty had lasted for over a quarter of a millennium when Cui Tu wrote this poem. The country was in the midst of rebellion and the end was near.

What will the new year bring?

Poet, Cui Tu (born 854) gives us his thoughts of travel in a distant land, far from family and home.

The road to Ba is a long, long way
Still, I am making this fearful journey of ten thousand li
In the melting snow beneath the jagged mountains at night
A stranger in a strange land
Alone, gradually growing distant from family and friends
Becoming closer to my companions instead
How does one bear moving from place to place,
What will the New Year bring?

Chinese New Year

The Chinese Lunar New Year will fall on Friday, February 16, 2018. So, I am ahead of myself if I am trying to keep pace with Cui Tu, but on track if one uses the Gregorian calendar.

State of Ba

Ba is an ancient state in eastern province of Sichuan, China. It borders the states of Pu, Chu, and Shu that figured prominently during the period of the Warring States.  During the Tang dynasty, Ba would have been known as remote province, consisting of various minorities who lived primarily by hunting and gathering. Sichuan was the home province of poet Du Fu.
During the earlier An Lushan Rebellion, after the capture of Chang’an by the rebels, the Tang emperor Xuanzong fled to Sichuan and the area that included the State of Ba.

Chinese mile, Li

The li is a Chinese unit of distance, about 500 meters or 1640 feet.

Other translations

No translation is ever exact and I have taken a liberty or two. American poet Witter Bynner included Thoughts on New Year’s Eve in his translation of Tang poetry, Heng-tʻang-tʻui-shih, The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology (New York: Knopf, 1929.

Original Chinese text

除夜有懷

迢遞三巴路
羈危萬里身
亂山殘雪夜
孤獨異鄕人

漸與骨肉遠
轉於僮僕親
那堪止漂泊
明日歲華新

Pinyin

Chúyè yǒu huái
tiáo dì sān bā lù
jī wēi wànlǐ shēn
luàn shān cánxuě
yè gūdú yì xiāng rén
jiàn yǔ gǔròu yuǎn
zhuǎn yú tóngpú qīn
nà kān zhǐ piāobó
míngrì suì huá xīn