Thursday, February 24, 2005

156. Ezra Pound in China

To the memory of the T'ang poet Li Po
who drowned in the year 762 AD,
drunk, and with his spirit all over the heavens,
diving to embrace the harvest moon
shining on still waters.

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Bright moonlight falling on my bed
gleams like frost upon the ground:

Lifting my head I remember
how silly, how human you were,
immortal now, made part of the splendid folly
with which you died: the beauty
lingers, I smile and salute you,
raising (again) the parting glass
to the true-man of Shi-yo,
to the undimmed voice.

China -- delicate, unreal, as distant
as the rattle of teacups in the soft
sunlight of vicarage gardens,
enshrouded now in fragile sepia
with other dull unbending times,
and a thousand times a thousand
passions, sweaty battles and couplings:
the strain, the hopes, the failure.

But you, your China chose you well,
and armed with its lean and lucid tongue,
you set off for distant cloudcut mountains
with wine, and with close companions,
over roads that were twisted like sheep's guts,
until the red-faced foreman of Kan-chu
came staggering out to greet you
at the river bridge.

Then the path led on to the willow temple,
to food on jewelled tables
to the sound of flutes and drums,
and the crimsoned girls were getting drunk about sunset
by waters as clear as blue jade,
rippling . . . softly rippling.
And all this comes to an end (you said)

All this comes to an end.
And it is not again to be met with

Lifting my head I see the bright moon
I lower it, thinking, thinking . . .


The first two and last two lines are my own translation of a poem by Li Po known to every homesick Chinese in the world. The title of the poem is a nod of recognition to a dated anthology of translated poetry edited by Ezra Pound (now out of print), in which I first came in contact with Li Po, known as 'Rihaku' in Japanese.