To an Old Friend Lost in Tibet

Dear Friend, Where are you now? Chinese (Han) and Tibetan (Fan) armies battled for centuries in the regions west of China. There was the important Silk Route to protect and valuable jade found in Xinjiang province. Yuezhi (identified in the first line of the poem) refers to nomadic tribesmen who settled in the grasslands of…

Lotus Flower Peak, Huashan Mountain

In January of 756, General An Lushan and his barbarian forces captured Luoyang, the eastern Tang capital. An Lushan proclaimed himself emperor. The capital of Chang’an was threatened. China was in an uproar. Nearby, Li Bai, from his lofty platform on Lotus Mountain, watched the advancing death and destruction. On Lotus Mountain’s western peakFar and…

The Wind, by Li Jiao

Wind The wind that blows September’s leavesCan open February flowers Can raise on the river three foot wavesAnd bend ten thousand bamboo poles Tang poet, Li Jiao, 645~714 风 解落三秋叶能开二月花过江三尺浪入竹万竿斜 唐, 李峤 FēngJiě luò sānqiū yè néng kāi èr yuè huā guò jiāng sān chǐ làng rù zhú wàn gān xiéLi Jiao The Wind The…

The Hope of Spring

March 2022, the Russian war in Ukraine rages without much hope for peace. The winter snow still falls, as do the bombs, but the tanks are strangely silent outside the major cities. The Ukrainian military fights on. There is a hope of spring in the hearts of the freedom loving Ukrainian people. Du Fu’s poem…

South of the Ramparts

“A pawn is a fierce device, sacrifice only if you must.” Li Bai, ca. 751 Chinese poet Li Bai likens War to a Game of Chess where soldiers become pawns in a game played between generals. Historical note. In 751 AD, three armies clashed at the Battle of the Talas River (怛羅斯戰役). The battle took…

Ten Years to Forge a Sword

Ji Dao’s (779–843) poem was quoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping to encourage Chinese athletes to do their best at the 2022 Winter Olympics. 十年磨一剑,霜刃未曾试。今日把试君,谁为不平事 剑客, 贾岛 Shí nián mó yī jiàn, shuāng rèn wèicéng shì. Jīnrì bǎ shì jūn, shéi wéi bùpíng shì Ten years to sharpen a sword. Its sharp bright edge never…

Facing the Snow

In the battle’s aftermath, many spirits cry,Alone, an old man hums his worrisome chant.Confusion sets in amid the clouds at dusk,A violent snow dances in the swirling wind There lies an abandoned ladle and an empty green jug,But the stove still looks fiery red.With bad news from many placesI sit in grief, but cannot read…

Autumn Meditations, 4, Du Fu

One hears, it’s said, Chang’an is a game of chess A century of events beyond sorrow Where princely palaces have new owners and Civilian and military clothes have changed from the past To the north of the mountain pass, gongs and drums sound In the western campaign, wagons and horses and feathered dispatches are slowed…

Yuhua Palace, 玉華宮

A winding stream, the smell of pine in the wind,A gray rat flees under ancient tiles.I don’t know whose royal palace is this,Mislaid beneath steep cliffs. In dark rooms ghostly fires glow green,A sorrowful stream flows over a broken path.A million sounds from the earth are the true flutes and reedsAutumn is sprinkled in colors…

The Ballad of War Carts (兵車行), Du Fu

A constant rumble of war cartsAnd never ending horse whinnies Soldiers with bows at their waistsFathers and mothers, wives and children rushing to see themIn the dust and dirt one cannot see Xianyang bridgePulling clothes, stamping feet, blocking the way and weepingThe sound of weeping rising above to heavenAlong the wayside a passerby asks a…