Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Du Fu's Winding River



Each piece of flying blossom leaves spring the less,
I grieve as myriad points float in the wind.
I watch the last ones move before my eyes,
And cannot have enough wine pass my lips.
Kingfishers nest by the little hall on the river,
Unicorns lie at the high tomb's enclosure.
Having studied the world, one must seek joy,
For what use is the trap of passing honor?

I come back from the court each day and pawn some spring clothing,
Every day I return to the river as drunk as I can be.
I have many debts for wine all over the place,
For men to live to seventy has always been unusual.
I see the butterflies go deeper and deeper between the flowers,
And dragonflies in leisured flight between drops of water.
As we're told, passing time is always on the move,
So little time to know each other: we should not be apart.


— Du Fu


Winding River is in fact two poems — Winding River I and Winding River II. Written by Du Fu (712-770) circa 758 after government forces recaptured Chang'an. Winding River I and Winding River II appear here in chronological order as two verses under one title.

Du Fu is regarded as one of the great poets of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) though it was not until the Song Dynasty (960–1279) that Du Fu's work gained favor in China. Critics have referred to the Confucian poet as the "poet historian." Rivaled only by Li Bo in terms of influence, Du Fu's earliest surviving poem describes a poetry contest.

Kenneth Rexroth described Du Fu as, "the greatest non-epic, non-dramatic poet who has survived in any language."