Poetry is an ancient form. It has arguably walked with man since man first troubles itself to speak. It is a rich heritage, of which we should be proud bearers–and today’s poet is one of the older samples of that heritage yet featured on this segment. Tu Fu stands among one of the most prominent Chinese Poets, and this stands as the case nearly 1500 years after his death–for his poetry has survived since the First Century A.D. And that, mind you, is quite an achievement itself. For nearly 1500 years, nearly a likewise number of poems have been accredited to him, and survived–the man could practically have his own library, no?
This said, much of what is known of Tu Fu today is what is preserved and gleaned from those very writings. He was a traveler, this much is known, despite his own best efforts–though once he longed to be one of the multitude of China’s civil servants of the day, he failed his exam, and took to honing his art.
It was an art that flowered on the chaos of the times–a time of rebellion, which disrupted the Chinese Empire and cast its subjects into the grips of war for nearly eight years. Tu Fu wrote of the horrors therein, wrote of the lives he saw around him–almost, it seemed at times, to distract himself from his own misfortunes. At one point, when the emperor was forced to abdicate and flee, Tu Fu, apparently prizing the safety of his family, attempted to flee with them to greener pastures–only to be captured by the rebels. Yet he would survive. He and his family would persevere, and what’s more, he would never cease his writing–even when he contracted malaria. It becomes readily apparent that Tu Fu was a strong soul, and an observant one. He captured almost sixty years of the land that China once had been, and remains today jewel in the eyes of poets and historians alike.
Today, we offer up one of his poems for your consumption: Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River. May you enjoy the translation.
Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River
The sorrow of riverside blossoms inexplicable,
And nowhere to complain — I’ve gone half crazy.
I look up our southern neighbor. But my friend in wine
Gone ten days drinking. I find only an empty bed.
A thick frenzy of blossoms shrouding the riverside,
I stroll, listing dangerously, in full fear of spring.
Poems, wine — even this profusely driven, I endure.
Arrangements for this old, white-haired man can wait.
A deep river, two or three houses in bamboo quiet,
And such goings on: red blossoms glaring with white!
Among spring’s vociferous glories, I too have my place:
With a lovely wine, bidding life’s affairs bon voyage.
Looking east to Shao, its smoke filled with blossoms,
I admire that stately Po-hua wineshop even more.
To empty golden wine cups, calling such beautiful
Dancing girls to embroidered mats — who could bear it?
East of the river, before Abbot Huang’s grave,
Spring is a frail splendor among gentle breezes.
In this crush of peach blossoms opening ownerless,
Shall I treasure light reds, or treasure them dark?
At Madame Huang’s house, blossoms fill the paths:
Thousands, tens of thousands haul the branches down.
And butterflies linger playfully — an unbroken
Dance floating to songs orioles sing at their ease.
I don’t so love blossoms I want to die. I’m afraid,
Once they are gone, of old age still more impetuous.
And they scatter gladly, by the branchful. Let’s talk
Things over, little buds —open delicately, sparingly.