Tu Fu

It is Tu Fu’s ability to express clearly, daringly, the nature of his knowledge of himself that makes him the greatest of the great.  

Tu Fu J.P. Seaton
Tu Fu is China’s greatest poet. He is a better poet than Li Po, his only real rival for the mythical laurels, simply because he is a better man. Young readers, attracted by the truly wonderful imagination, the monumental whimsy and the unbelievable poetic skill that Li Po brings to the expression of his simply incredible joie de vivre will always disagree, but they will not always be young.

almost every poem displays the poet involved in a conscious effort to put his political and social ideals into practice. The degree to which Tu Fu’s ideals and aspirations coincide with his personality, with his life as it is lived, is certainly part of what marks him as a truly great man. The fact that he is a great poet in a technical sense, that is, that he is a master of the art of communication through the use of written language, is probably finally the reason why we see a great good man beneath the works. Tu Fu is a chun tzu, a gentleman made fit to govern by virtue of his education, his wen, a skill in communication, as well as a quality of being, created by the studies of classical Confucianism, philosophical Taoism, and the To’s most popular brand of liberal Buddhism, the school known as T’ian Tai.

(Tu Fu’s poems) show the seamlessness of Tu Fu’s understanding of both the existential quality of a human life, and the moral necessity of a humane one. It seems to me that it is Tu Fu’s ability to express clearly, daringly, the nature of his knowledge of himself that makes him the greatest of the great. Like T’ao Ch’ien before him and Yuan Mei after; he was proud to be who he has made himself, to have accomplished what his place in the world and the world in his times would allow him to accomplish, to claim no more, and to show no less. For me, these are the things that make him not just the great Chinese poet, but by means of poetry, show him to have been one of the truly greatest of humane persons in this world, among all times.


Tu Fu and Li Po

Looking at Mount Tai

How is Mountain Tai?
Its green is seen beyond State Qi and State Lu,
a distillation of creation’s spirit and beauty.
Its slopes split day into yin and yang.
Its rising clouds billow in my chest.
Homecoming birds fly through my wide-open eyes.
I should climb to the summit
and in one glance see all other mountains dwarfed.

Tony Barnstone

Moonlight Night

Moon of this night, in Fu-chou,
Alone in your chamber you gaze.
Here, far away, I think of the children,
Too young to remember Longpeace…
Fragrant mist, moist cloud of your hair.
In that clear light, your arms jade cool.
When, again to lean together, by your curtain there,
Alight alike, until our tears have dried.

J.P. Seaton


No 5. Grasshopper Wings

Under my feet the moon
Glides along the river.
Near midnight, a gusty lantern
Shines in the heart of night.
Along the sandbars flocks
Of white egrets roost,
Each one clenched like a fist.
In the wake of my barge
The fish leap, cut the water,
And dive and splash.

Kenneth Rexroth


Return to Chiang Village

Shaggy red clouds in the west-
the sun’s foot is down to level earth.
By the wicker gate, sparrows are chirping.
The traveler returns from over a thousand li.
Wife and children panic at my presence;
quieted, they still wipe tears.
In this age of turmoil, I floated and meandered.
A miracle of chance to return alive!
Neighbors crowd the fence tops
and also sigh and sob.
In the deep night, we are again holding candles,
facing each other as in a dream.

Arthur Sze


Full of Feelings (Nine Quatrains)

This hand planted these peaches, these plums
They are not masterless_ Though the wall
is low, this is my home. just like Springs
wind, that cheat. Thief in the night
he’s torn the blossomed branches down.
They know my study’s low and small
The River’s orioles so dare invade,
Dripping nest mud, from beak to book and lute,
Driving bugs in the face of the Master.
March gone, now, April’s moon.
I age: how many more to meet?
Won’t let mind linger on the endless things beyond me.
I’ll try to finish this
One small cup.
Heart breaks, that River Spring should end.
Short staff in hand I stand
On flowered isle. Mad willow Hui?
Flown with that Wind away. Pickle
Blossoms of the peach run off
With flowing stream.VII
Scattered on the path, the willow flowers,
Fine White carpet spread. Dotting the stream, the lotus leaves,
Green coins, piled up.
Among bamboos the pheasant chicks are hidden.
On the sand the ducklings sleep
Beside their mother.
West of the hut, mulberry, the tender leaves to pluck.
In River Helds the slender grains embroidery again.
How long’s life last? Springs turned
To Summer here. I won’t put down
These fragrant lees, sweet as honey

J.P. Seaton


Moon, Rain, Riverbank

Rain roared through, now
the autumn night is clear.
The water wears a patina of gold
and carries a bright jade star.
Heavenly River runs clear and pure,
as gently as before.

Sunset buries the mountains in shadow.
A mirror floats in the deep green void,
its light reflecting the cold, wet dusk,
dew glistening,
freezing on the flowers.

Sam Hamill


From Admiring, Alone, the Flowers on the Riverbank

It’s not I love these flowers more than life,
Only, when they’re gone, life too may flee.
Full branch; so easily its petals fall.
Take counsel, tender buds, to part more carefully.

Francois Cheng


Written on the Wall at Chang’s Hermitage

It is Spring in the mountains.
I come alone seeking you.
The sound of chopping wood echoes
Between the silent peaks.
The streams are still icy.
There is snow on the trail.
At sunset I reach your grove
In the stony mountain pass.
You want nothing, although at night
You can see the aura of gold
And silver ore all around you.
You have learned to be gentle
As the mountain deer you have tamed.
The way back forgotten, hidden
Away, I become like you,
An empty boat, floating, adrift.

Kenneth Rexroth


For the Prince in Exile (Li Chin, AD 750)

Peerless and solitary
You allow me to stay
Our first meeting night:
The height of autumn,
The air crisp-clear.But the mists come soon,
Then the rain,
Then, toward morning,
The milky moon.Then the thunder,
Then the flood,
Then your stoic sleep
While I drop tears
You scorn to weep

Carolyn Kizer


Night Thoughts While Traveling

A light breeze rustles the reeds
Along the river banks. The
Mast of my lonely boat soars
Into the night. Stars blossom
Over the vast desert of
Waters. Moonlight flows on the
Surging river. My poems have
Made me famous but I grow
Old, ill and tired, blown hither
And yon; I am like a gull
Lost between heaven and earth.

Kenneth Rexroth


Spring View

The nation is ruined, but mountains and rivers remain.
This spring the city is deep in weeds and brush.
Touched by the times even flowers weep tears,
Fearing leaving the birds tangled hearts.
Watch-tower fires have been burning for three months

Gary Snyder

Spring Prospect

The nation shattered, mountains and river remain;
city in spring, grass and trees burgeoning.
Feeling the times, blossoms draw tears;
hating separation, birds alarm the heart.
Beacon fires three months in succession,
a letter from home worth ten thousand in gold.
White hairs, fewer for the scratching,
soon too few to hold a hairpin up.

Burton Watson


Recording My Thoughts While Traveling at Night

A shore of thin reeds in light wind
a tall boat alone at night
stars hang over the barren land
the moon rises out of the Yangtze
how could writing ever lead to fame
I quit my post due to illness and age
drifting along what am I like
a solitary gull between Heaven and Earth

Red Pine


I Go Too

Each day when Court is oven I skip to the pawnshop
My nice Spring wardrobe underneath my arm.
Bit by bit, I am drinking up my clothes!
At night I return from the riverbank, quite soused.
Trying not to glance in the taverns – I owe them all-
Slipping past, I reflect on the shortness of life
Especially mine. I’ll never see seventy now
Well, not many do. Who wants to, anyhow?
Saffron butterflies browse deep in flowers;
Dragonflies dint the placid water now and then.
Soothe me, Spring wind! Keep me gentle forever!
Never cross-grained, as Light and Time pass over

Carolyn Kizer


Good Rain: A Night in Spring

The good rain knows its season
Come spring it comes to life again
With the wind, so stealthy in the night
Moistens all things so delicate so silent
On the wild paths clouds all black
lI morning’s glow, the red wet spots
Flowers weigh down upon the Brocade Mandarin. 

Francois Cheng


New Moon

Narrow rays from the first slice of moon
slant from the trembling edge of the dark orb
which barely crests the ancient fortress
wallowing in the surf of evening clouds.
The river of stars is one eternal color.
Empty cold pours through the mountain pass.
The front courtyard is white dew
and chrysanthemums secretly drenched with dark.

Tony Barnstone


Rain, Four Poems


Light rain doesn’t slick the road;
Broken clouds slack, then move again.
The foot of racing purple cliffs — black;
At the horizon the white birds — bright.
The autumn sun casts damp new shadows,
On the cold river, old familiar sounds of rain.
A brushwood cottage overlooks a rustic mill;
Half wet, the fresh-hulled fragrant rice.2.This southern rain nourishes the mossy stones,
As it slows news from the capital.
In mountain’s cold, a black bull lows;
By evening’s river, a white gull cries his hunger.
Patterned hairpins of the Goddess drop;
The mermaid, sitting by her loom, mourns.
Cares will not come untangled,
Streaming down all day
In silken threads.

William H. Nienhauser


Spring Vigil in the Imperial Chancellery

Flowers lurk in the dusk by the palace walls.
Twitter, twitter, homing birds pass by.
Stars come: a million houses move.
The moon by the empyrean seems to be much more.
Sleepless: golden keys ring.
On the wind, jade pendants seem to tinkle.
omorrow morning I have a sealed petition to make.
All night long I ask: what has become of the night?

Wai-lim Yip


Riverside Moon and Stars

The sudden storm’s left a clear, autumnal
night and jade-String stars radiant in goldwaves. Star River white with all beginning
its clarity claims Yangtze shallows anew.Strung~Pearls snaps, scattering shimmering
reflections. A mirror lofts into blank spaceof origins. Of last light a waterclock hides,
what remains with frost seizing blossoms?

David Hinton


Autumn Meditations, No. 8

Kunwu park and Yusu lodge are out there in the remote distances;
the shadow of Purple Tower peak enters Meipi lake.
Fragrant rice: leftovers from pecking, parrots’ grains;
emerald wutong trees: till old age perched, phoenixes’ branches.
Lovely ones gathered kingfisher feathers to give as springtime gifts;
transcendent companions shared a boat, moving off again toward evening.
My many-colored writing brush once strove with the climate;

Robert Ashmore


A Traveler at Night Writes His Thoughts

Delicate grasses, faint wind on the bank;
stark mast, a lone night boat:
stars hang down, over broad fields sweeping;
the moon boils up, on the great river flowing.
Fame – how can my writings win me that?
Office 4 age’ and sickness have brought it to an end.
Fluttering, luttering – where is my likeness?
Sky and earth and one sandy gull.

Burton Watson


A Moonlit Night

Tonight my wife must watch alone
the full moon over Fuzhou;
I think sadly of my children far away, too young
to understand my absence or remember Changan.
In fragrant mist, her flowing hair is damp;
in clear moonlight, her jade-white arms are cold.
while the moonlight dries our shining tears?

David Lunde


For Wei Pa, in Quiet

You’re Orion, jagged, holothurian.
I’m Antares. We never meet
But after twenty years my head
greys to the touch. lt was dusk once like this

Chopped spring chives, new wine in cups.
The candle’s power between our faces
recruits the old names on our heated breath,
and half our words sound like someone else,

a man brought to life, warmed over ghosts.
How many years of steps to your household
where your row of quick sporting children
buttonhole me with queries as they fill

urgent cups? Steamed yellow millet; ten
rounds; non-stop of wine, and still
not drunk. Only the night is. Only the
mountain is unsteadily dividing
now from all other tomorrows.

David Gordon


Broken Boat

All my life I’ve had my heart set on going off
to the land of the lakes-the boat was built for it,
and long ago too. That I used to row
every day on the creek that runs by my rail gate
is beside the point. But then came the mutiny,
and in my panic I fled far away, where
my only concern was to get back here
to these familiar hills.
The neighbors are all gone now,
and everywhere the wild bamboo
sprouts and spreads and grows tall.
No more rapping its sides as I sing-
It’s spent the whole autumn underwater.
All I can do now is watch the other travelers-
birds sailing off in their westward flights,
and even the river, embarrassing me
by moving off eastward so easily.
Well, I could dig up the old one,
and a new one’s easy enough to buy,
but it’s really the running away that troubles me-
this recent escape and so many before-
that even in this simple cottage
a man cannot stay put long.

Stephen Owen


Passing the Night at the General’s Headquarters

Clear autumn at headquarters, wutong trees cold beside the well;
I spend the night alone in the river city, burning my candle down.
Sad bugle notes sound through the long night as I talk to myself;
glorious moon hanging in mid-sky but who looks?
The endless dust-storm of troubles cuts off news and letters;
the frontier passes are perilous, travel nearly impossible.
I have already suffered ten years, ten years of turmoil and hardship
now I am forced to accept a perch on this one peaceful branch.

David Lunde

Lodging for the Night

A breeze strokes
the thin grass on the shore.
A boat with a tall mast
stands at night, alone.
As the stars sink, Would writings ever>
bring me fame
Old and sick,
is it time to retire from my rank?
Drifting, drifting,
what am I like?
A sea gull
between Heaven and Earth.

Edward Chang


Dreaming of Li Bai (1)

Parting with the dead,
one eventually stops sobbing;
when parting with the living
sorrow never ends.
You’re exiled to Yelang in jiangnan
a place plagued by malaria,
and no news of you, old friend.
But you enter my dream tonight
for you are always in my thoughts.
You’ve been tangled in the nets of the law
how did you free your wings to fly here’
It makes me fear this soul of yours
is not of one still living.
The road between us is too long to measure
When your soul set out this way,
you could see the green maples,
but when your soul returns
it will travel through dark passes.
As I wake, the sinking moon
Hoods the roof-beams with its light
and I stare about, half-expecting
it will shine on your face.
Between us the water is deep
and the waves broad and tall-
don’t let the water-dragons
seize you, my friend!

David Lunde

The Shih Ching , usually translated as either The Book of Songs or the Classic of Poetry, is the first great collection of Chinese poetry. Tradition says that it was edited into its present form by the Sage of Sages, Confucius himself. In fact the book was assembled before, during, and after the life of Confucius. Its more than three hundred poems include fragments of works as old as the Shang Dynasty (traditional; dates 1766-1154 BCE) as well as “contemporary” poems from the Chou feudal states written or spoken by both aristocratic court figures and just plain “folks”. A great deal has been said about the origin of many, if not the majority of the poems as oral “folk” art, but it is clear from the artistry of the written language in which they have been handed down that, like the scribes who improved upon the originally oral poetry attributed to “Homer” in the West to create the Iliad and the Odyssey, the people who converted Chou folk songs and court verses into poetry in written Chinese characters clearly thought of themselves as (and were) artists. So the characters used to render simple and direct lyrical utterances of the illiterate peasant folk often honor them with carefully chosen written vocabulary: the heart and soul of folk art remains clearly present, but literary subtleties are introduced. The scribes who created the Shih Ching were poets, not tape recorders. They chose the best of what existed, and they honored it with their own art.

In its present form, the Shih Ching consists of three major sections, the Kuo Feng, or Odes of the States, comprising 160 of the 300 are generally but not always folk songs. The Ya (Elegant Verses) subdivided with no obvious criteria into greater and lesser, include poems 161-265, and the Sung or Temple Odes high ritual songs and bits of dynastic myth, include poems 266-305. The present selection is comes, all but a single longer poem on drinking and its positive and negative consequences from the “Lesser Elegants”, all come from the Kuo Feng Sections.

Knowledge of the Shih Ching poems was a necessity of diplomatic practice around the time of Confucius, when it was a common practice to deliver or at least support the delivery of diplomatic messages among the feudal domains (the “States or Guo of the Guo Feng) by oral presentation of relevant lines from the Classic. From the Han on many of the poems where imbued with very specific allegorical interpretations, but it is clear that later poets, who memorized the book word for word, used it as allusive material in their own poems at least as often for its plain “folk” messages as for its orthodoxly approved allegorical ones.