Selected Poems from T'ang Dynasty


Ch'en Tzu-ang (A.D. 656 - 698) 

On Climbing You-Chou Terrace

Ahead I cannot see the ancient faces,
Behind I cannot see the coming sages.
I brood upon the endlessness of Nature,
Lonely and sick at heart, with falling tears.



Ho Chih-chang (A.D. 659 - 744)

Jotted Down on Returning Home after Long Separation

Of youth bereft as home I came -- alas,
With brogue unchanged but sadly altered hair;
My children wondered who the stranger was.
They smiled and said: "Where do you come from, sir?"


Chang Chiu-ling (A.D. 673 - 740) 

Looking at the Moon and Longing for a Distant Lover 

A clear moon climbs over the sea;
To its farthest rim
the whole sky is glowing.
Lovers complain -- how endless is the night!
Their longing thoughts rise till the dawn.

I blow out the candle
to enjoy the clear radiance,
Slip on my clothes
for I feel the dew grow thick.
Since I cannot gather a handful of moonlight
to give you,
I shall go back to sleep
and hope to meet you in a dream!


Kao Shih (A.D. 702 - 765?) 

Parting from the Eldest Youth of the Tung Family 

Long leagues of tawny sky shut out the day:
On the North Wind wind geese are whirled:
And fast, fast drives of snow.

Yet dread not loneliness upon thy way.
What name is there in the whole world
That thy name will not know?


Meng Chiao (A.D. 751 - 814) 

Song of the Wanderer

Thread in the hand of a loving mother
Is worked into the coat
of her wayward boy.
Firm and close she sets the stitches now
For she fears he will be slow, slow
to return.
Who can say that the heart
of an inch-long grass
Will repay the sunlight
of full Spring?*

* The last two lines are stock metaphors which are readily comprehensible in Chinese. "The heart of an inch-long grass" means the most exiguous and ardent affection, and "the sunlight of full Spring" means the tender and benign influence of a parent's love. 


Chang Chi (A.D. 766 - 830) 

The Chaste Wife's Reply

On me, a wedded wife -- as well you know -- 
A gift of rarest pearls you did bestow;
Which, grateful for your tenderness,
I pinned upon my crimson dress.
My house is tall and with fine gardens girt:
My good man is a Halberdier at Court.
Granted your love be true to the last breath --
Yet I my marriage vows must keep till death.
Sir, I return to you each precious pearl
--Yet would that I had known you as a girl!


Han Y (A.D. 768 - 824)

Late Spring

All plants, aware that spring will soon be gone,
Their brightest rose bud purple hues put on:
And from each emulous bloom
Is shed a sweet perfume.

Only the willow-catkins and elm-keys,
In their simplicity, with every breeze
Over the heavens go
Flying like flakes of snow.


Wang Ch'ang-ling (8th century) 

Passing the Frontier

Under the Ch'in moonlight
and through the Han passes
Mile after mile to battle they marched
and never returned...
If only the `Flying General' of Lung Ch'eng*
were still among us,
Never would the Tartar horsemen
cross Yin Mountain!

* The `Flying General' was General Li Kuang of Han (died 125), much dreaded by the Hsiung-nu tribesman, who gave him this nickname. 


Wang Chih-huan (8th century) 

Passing the Frontier

In the far distance the Yellow River
climbs to the white clouds;
A lone town is perched in the mountains,
many thousand feet high.
Why should a Tartar pipe
mourn for willow trees?
Spring wind seldom crosses
Y-men pass.

Climbing the Crane Pagoda

White sunlight disappears
from the hillside,
Yellow River flows on
into the sea.
Desiring to scan
the thousand-mile vista
I climb another storey
of the pagoda.


Li Shen (A.D. 780? - 846)

Old Style

I

The cob of corn in springtime sown
In autumn yields a hundredfold.
No fields are seen that fallow lie:
And yet of hunger peasants die.

II

As at noontide they hoe their crops,
Sweat on the grain to earth down drops.
How many tears, how many a groan,
Each morsel on thy dish did mould!


Li Ho (A.D. 790 - 816)-

Lament That the Days Are So Short

Flying lights, flying lights,*
I pledge you a cup of wine.
I do not know if the blue heavens are high,
The yellow earth is rich,
I only see cold moon, hot sun,
Both come to plague us.
Eat bears and you'll grow fat,
Eat frogs and you'll grow thin.**
Where is the Spirit Lady?
Where the Great Unity?***

East of the sky stands the Jo tree,****
Under it a dragon with a torch in its mouth.*****
I'll cut off the dragon's feet,
And eat the dragon's flesh.
Ther morning will not come back again,
Night will not stay.
So old men will not die,
Nor young men weep.
Why should we swallow yellow gold,
Or eat white jade?+

Who is Ren Gong-zi
Riding a white donkey through the clouds?++
Liu Che lies in the Mao-ling tomb,
Just a pile of bones.+++
Ying Zheng lies in his catalpa coffin -- 
What a waste of abalone.++++

* Flying lights: Sun and moon.
** Bears' paws were a rich man's delicacy; frogs were eaten by the poor.
*** The Spirit Lady was worshipped by Han Wu-ti. The Great Unity was the supreme deity of the Taoist pantheon.
**** The Jo tree is a mythical tree int ehfar west (not the east), the foilage of which gives off a red glow at sunset.
*****Chu-ci, The Heavenly Questions, p.49: "What land does the sun not reach to? How does the Torch Dragon light it?"
+ Yellow gold, white jade are ingredients of the elixirs of life.
++ Ren Gong-zi is an immortal in Chinese legends.
+++ Emperor Wu of Han, an assiduous seeker after immortality, was buried in Mao-ling tomb. Liu Che is his name.
++++ Ying Zheng, another ardent searcher for immortal life, was the notorious First Emperor of Ch'in. He died while on a journey, so his attendents, anxious to conceal his death until they returned to the capital, filled the carriages with abalone to hide the smell of the corpse. 


Luo Yin (A.D. 833 - 909)

A Candid Song

When all goes well, for joy I sing:
When aught goes ill, I cease.
And, truth to tell, there's many a thing
Might rob me of my peace.
Then drink today while drink you may.
You ne'er may drink another day.
As for what sorrow may come to-morrow,
Why, let it be to-morrow's sorrow!


Tu Ch'iu-niang

The Coat with The Gold Threads

I warn you -- cherish not your gold-threaded coat;
I warn you -- cherish rather the days of your youth!
When the flower blooms, ready for picking,
pick it you must:
Don't wait till the flower falls
and pick a bare twig!