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

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