The Ancient Modern

Tang Poems /  Joshua Alan Sturgill


Looking back through last year’s writings, I find several pages of Chinese poems in rough translation. I believe they were from a collection of anonymous Tang-era works. Or perhaps I neglected to record the authors, distracted by the difficulty of translation. Somehow, they came to be in my journal rather than in my school notebooks, but their out-of-place-ness seems appropriate to the images they convey.


Aged and solitary, I sit
Deep in the secret interior\
Of a bamboo grove

            Playing an instrument of seven strings
            Answering the long cries of the birds

Deep in the forest
No one is aware of me
But the full moon

We illumine each other

From the watchtowers of the city wall
           I bow my head

Before me, the lands of the third Qin State
But wind brings mists from afar
From the crossing at the Five Fords
Where I offered you, sir, a parting wish

We are alike, we courtly wanderers
Deep in the sea of 10,000 things we live
            Knowing each in the other
Even at heaven’s opposite horizons
     We are neighbors

Never, though on diverging roads,
Do we soak our clothing with tears
Like the other children

Spring emerges from her hibernation
Not quite awake at dawn
Everywhere, I hear the cry of birds

Evening arrives with a voice
            Of wind and rain

Blossoms fall, revealing
            How much can be lost



For these three poems, I recorded the names of the authors. So it’s quite possible I listed the earlier poems mistakenly as anonymous. I hope those ancient writers will forgive me. I have a sense, though, that they would not consider these words their own. They might know a secret of hearing poetry in the wind, and they might say these words are the wind’s possessionas common and as ungraspable.

             Wang Zhiuhan  “Ascending Stork Tower”

The white Sun yields, exhausted
Behind the mountains
The yellow River flows to the sea
A mere stream

I wish to find the limit of my sight
One thousand miles and more
I climb up one more level
Of the tower
            Lui Zongyan  “River Snow”

From one thousand mountains
The flight of birds has vanished

From one thousand paths
Men’s footsteps fade

Solitary boat; straw raincoat, bamboo hat

An old man fishes alone
On the snowy river
            Jia Dao  “Visiting a Recluse and not Finding Him at Home”

Under the pines
I inquire
Of the servant
About his master

He says the teacher
Goes to gather herbs
Out, in the mountains
Deep in the clouds

He does not know where

All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2020 by Joshua Alan Sturgill

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