Friday, March 21, 2014

Like a fluttering candle

Tonight's pairing is a poem by the great Chinese poet known as Tu Fu or as Du Fu (read about him!) with a Checkerspot butterfly whose image I caught in my own mountain place, Almaden Quicksilver Park. He had just emerged and was drying his wings, which is why he posed so well.

by Tu Fu

Throughout Heaven and Earth, whatever lives
contends. Each place has its own way,
but we all struggle inchmeal, one with another,
tangling ourselves ever tighter in the snare.

Without aristocracy, what would the lowly
grieve for? And without wealth, what could
poverty lack? O, neighborhoods may take turns
mourning, but all time is one lone corpse.

Here, in Wu Gorge, I have lived three unkempt
years out like a fluttering candle, blessed that
after a lifetime growing content with failure,
I've forgotten how splendor and grace differ.

Chosen for court or grown old in some outland,
I need the same workaday rice. But here, my
house of woven bramble east of city walls, I can
pick healing herbs in shaded mountain valleys.

Searching out roots between frost and snow,
I wear my heart away without thinking of lush
branches and vines. It isn't discipline---
this quiet life apart has always been my joy.

They say a sage is taut as a bowstring and
a fool is bent hookwise. Who knows which
I am? Taut hookwise, warming my old back
here in the sun, I await woodcutters and herdsmen.

Tu Fu, translated by David Hinton in The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, edited by Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 2003.

One of the things I like about this translation is the compounds the translator has chosen: workaday rice, inchmeal, hookwise to go with other more commonly used compounds such as bowstring, woodcutters or herdsman. It gives the poem an appealing texture.

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