A thousand hills, but no birds in flight

Liu Zongyuan

A thousand hills, but no birds in flight,
Ten thousand paths, with no person’s tracks.
A lonely boat, a straw-hatted old man,
Fishing alone in the cold river snow.


Winter Dawn

Tu Fu

The men and beasts of the zodiac
Have marched over us once more.
Green wine bottles and red lobster shells,
Both emptied, litter the table.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” Each
Sits listening to his own thoughts,
And the sound of cars starting outside.
The birds in the eaves are restless,
Because of the noise and light. Soon now
In the winter dawn I will face
My fortieth year. Borne headlong
Towards the long shadows of sunset
By the headstrong, stubborn moments,
Life whirls past like drunken wildfire.

Kenneth Rexroth

Early Winter

Po Ch’ui

Tenth month south of the Yangtze, splendid weather,
winter landscapes delightful as the flowering spring,
frosts so light they don’t kill the lush vegetation,
warm sunshine drying the broad sandy flats.
Yellow leaves on the old paper mulberry look like new shoots;
white limbs of the winter cherry, blooming out of season.
At such times I envy idlers who can get drunk–
five-horse officials aren’t allowed in the taverns!

Burton Watson

Reflections on Early Winter

Meng Hao-jan

Leaves are falling;
wild geese fly south.
Wind blowing from the north
turns the river cold.
My home is
at the bend of Xiang River,
far away, below the
last clouds of Chu.
No more homesick tears
are left in a strange land.
In my solitary boat,
l see only the sky’s rim.
I want to ask for
the correct direction,
but the sea at sunset
is so flat and boundless.

Edward Chang

Facing Snow

Tu Fu

Wailing war, so many fine young ghosts:
Chanting sadness, one poor lame old man.
A chaos of clouds droops into the sunset:
A rush of snowflakes dances, whirling in the wind.
The wine pot’s pushed aside, cup empty of its green:
The stove abides, there coals glow red.
No news from anywhere gets through.
Sadness sits, to draft a letter
Into emptiness.

J.P. Seaton

On Mount Lang-ya

Wei Ying-wu

At Stone Gate there is snow, no trace of travel.
Pine Valley’s mists, so full of fragrances.
To the crumbs of our meal in the court, cold birds come down.
A tattered robe hangs on the tree, the old monk’s dead.

J.P. Seaton

Facing Snow and Writing What  My Heart Embraces

Ching An

At Mount Ssu-ming in the cold in the snow,
half a lifetime’s bitter chanting.
Beard hairs are easy to pluck out one by one:
a poem’s words are hard to put together.
It’s pure vanity, to vent the heart and spleen;
words and theories, sometimes, aren’t enough.
Loneliness, loneliness ; that’s my everyday affair.
The soughing winds pass on the night bell sound.

J.P. Seaton

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.