The Ancient Modern
Tang Poems / Joshua Alan Sturgill
THREE TANG POEMS
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.
I. 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
II. 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
III. 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
THREE MORE TANG POEMS
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 possession—as 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