Thursday, December 11, 2014

Drifting clouds--so the world shifts

 One of the great expanses of the American West from the car.

I finally got hold of the slender book of Burton Watson's translations of Su Tung-P'o! This is the final poem in the book. This book has a splendid introduction to the life of Su Tung-P'o and to the complicated poetic conventions of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) and the methods Watson uses to refine his translations.

Bell and Drum on the South River Bank (1101)

Bell and drum on the south river bank:
Home! I wake startled from a dream.
Drifting clouds---so the world shifts;
Lone moon---such is the light of the mind.
Rain drenches down as from a tilted basin;
Poems flow out like water spilled.
The two rivers vie to send me off;
Beyond treetops I see the slant of a bridge.

Su Tung-P'o
Selections from a Sung Dynasty poet
translated by Burton Watson,
Colombia University Press, 1965, page 135.

Written in the summer. The poet had traveled north, then east down the Yangtze to Chinkiang, and was now about to enter the Grand Canal to go South to Ch'ang-chou, where he planned to live the remainder of his life. He died on the eighteenth day of the seventh month of this year, shortly after reaching Ch'ang-chou.
(Note by translator Burton Watson.)

This little poem makes we want to try writing in syllabics; these are often 8-syllable lines or close to that. There is no enjambment; each line is complete in itself. The result is a quiet, competent poem, Watson was born in 1925 and has been living in Japan full-time now since 1973. The short Wikipedia article at this link gives an interesting brief overview of his development.

Nothing much more lovely than a wide sky with great expanses of cloud.

No comments:

Post a Comment