Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Serendipity: more autumn poetry from China

Listening to a Monk From Shu Playing the Lute
The monk from Shu with his green lute-case walked
Westward down Emei Shan, and at the sound
Of the first notes he strummed for me I heard
A thousand valleys' rustling pines resound.
My heart was cleansed, as if in flowing water.
In bells of frost I heard the resonance die.
Dusk came unnoticed over the emerald hills
And autumn clouds layered the darkening sky.

-- Li Po --
trans. by Vikram Seth

A lute seems the perfect instrument to capture the flavor of autumn. The only other instrument, I think, would be the flute--well--maybe a cello. That would make an interesting trio--a lute, a cello, and a flute. I wonder if there are any works composed for this trio.

from Autumn Thoughts

Leaves fall turning turning to the ground,
by the front eaves racing, following the wind;
murmuring voices seem to speak to me
as they whirl and toss in headlong flight.
An empty hall in the yellow dusk of evening:
I sit here silent, unspeaking.
The young boy comes in from outdoors,
trims the lamp, sets it before me,
asks me questions I do not answer,
brings me a supper I do not eat.
He goes and sits down by the west wall,
reading me poetry--three or four poems;
the poet is not a man of today--
already a thousand years divide us--
but something in his words strikes my heart,
fills it again with an acid grief.
I turn and call to the boy:
Put down the book and go to bed now--
a man has times when he must think,
and work to do that never ends.

-- Han Yu --
trans. by Burton Watson

One can't always live in the past; today is always interrupting, isn't it.

Both poems are taken from
World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our TimeKatherine Washburn and John S. Major, editors

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