By Tu Fu:
A SPRING VIEW
Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure;
And spring comes green again to trees and grasses
Where petals have been shed like tears
And lonely birds have sung their grief.
…After the war-fires of three months,
One message from home is worth a ton of gold.
…I stroke my white hair. It has grown too thin
To hold the hairpins any more.
SEEING LI BAI IN A DREAM II
This cloud, that has drifted all day through the sky,
May, like a wanderer, never come back….
Three nights now I have dreamed of you —
As tender, intimate and real as though I were awake.
And then, abruptly rising to go,
You told me the perils of adventure
By river and lake-the storms, the wrecks,
The fears that are borne on a little boat;
And, here in my doorway, you rubbed your white head
As if there were something puzzling you.
…Our capital teems with officious people,
While you are alone and helpless and poor.
Who says that the heavenly net never fails?
It has brought you ill fortune, old as you are.
…A thousand years’ fame, ten thousand years’ fame-
What good, when you are dead and gone.
TO MY RETIRED FRIEND WEI
It is almost as hard for friends to meet
As for the morning and evening stars.
Tonight then is a rare event,
Joining, in the candlelight,
Two men who were young not long ago
But now are turning grey at the temples.
…To find that half our friends are dead
Shocks us, burns our hearts with grief.
We little guessed it would be twenty years
Before I could visit you again.
When I went away, you were still unmarried;
But now these boys and girls in a row
Are very kind to their father’s old friend.
They ask me where I have been on my journey;
And then, when we have talked awhile,
They bring and show me wines and dishes,
Spring chives cut in the night-rain
And brown rice cooked freshly a special way.
…My host proclaims it a festival,
He urges me to drink ten cups —
But what ten cups could make me as drunk
As I always am with your love in my heart?
…Tomorrow the mountains will separate us;
After tomorrow-who can say?
(Today’s poems are in the public domain, belong to the masses, and appear here today accordingly. The translations are from The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse, Edited by A.R. Davis, Penguin Books, 1962.)
Tu Fu (712–770), also known as Du Fu, is considered with Li Po to be one of China’s greatest poets of the Tang dynasty. He is often described as a poet-historian, and his works convey the emotional impact and import of political and social issues and register a range of private concerns, trials, and dramas. His poems are remarkable for their range of moods as well as contents. According to one of his translators, David Hinton, “[Tu Fu] explored the full range of experience, and from this abundance shaped the monumental proportions of being merely human.” (Annotated biography of Tu Fu courtesy of The Poetry Foundation, with edits.)
Editor’s Note: Tu Fu’s poetry is timeless. More than 1,200 years after his poems were penned, they resonate as strongly as if they were written about life, love, and the world today. Today’s spring, which “comes green again to trees and grasses / Where petals have been shed like tears.” Today’s friendship: “what ten cups could make me as drunk / As I always am with your love in my heart?” Today’s questioning of loss: “What good, when you are dead and gone.”