Reproach in a Letter on Colored Paper

Shangguan Wan’er
664 – 710


When first leaves fall on Lake Dongting,
I long for you, thousands of miles away.
In heavy dew my scented quilt feels cold,
At moonset, brocade screen deserted.
I would play a Southland melody
And crave to seal a letter to Jibei.
The letter has no other message but
This misery in living long apart.

Translation by Su Zhecong

After the death of the Emperor Tenmu

We present this work in honor of the 1,320th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Empress Jitō
645 – 703


Oh, the autumn foliage
Of the hill of Kamioka!
My good Lord and Sovereign
Would see it in the evening
And ask of it in the morning.
On that very hill from afar
I gaze, wondering
If he sees it today,
Or asks of it tomorrow.
Sadness I feel at eve,
And heart-rending grief at morn –
The sleeves of my coarse-cloth robe
Are never for a moment dry.

A String of Bright Beacon Fires

We present this work in honor of China’s National Day.

Yang Jiong
650 – c. 695


A String of bright beacon fires lights up the Capital;
My blood’s boiling, my heart’s crying out for battle!
Leaving Changan with royal warrant hastily,
Armoured cavalries aim to besiege the enemy city.

Painted banners are dimmed by the heavy snows pelting,
Thundering war drums are heard amidst the gusts howling.
O, To be a fighting centurion I’d be most willing,
Rather than a verse-reciting scholarly weakling!

Farewell to Vice-Prefect Du Setting Out for His Official Post in Shu

We present this work in honor of the Ching Ming Festival.

04-05 Wang
Wang Bo
650 – 676

By this wall that surrounds the three Qin districts,
Through a mist that makes five rivers one,
We bid each other a sad farewell,
We two officials going opposite ways….
And yet, while China holds our friendship,
And heaven remains our neighbourhood,
Why should you linger at the fork of the road,
Wiping your eyes like a heart-broken child?

In Prison the Cicadas Still Sing

We present this work in honor of Chinese New Year.

02-01 Luo
Luo Binwang
640 – 684

Along the road running west
The cicadas sing
And from the south too
So loudly it sounds like
A visitor approaching

How long the song lasts
From their fragile black wings
Yet my white shaggy head
Detects a note of gloom

As autumn’s heavy mists
Make flight unthinkable
And the wind grows stronger
Their song will be submerged

So too by my fellow man
I have been left here forgotten
No one shows the least regard
For the songs that yet
Would fill my heart

On the Removal of Prince Ōtsu’s Remains to the Futagami Mountains

We present this work in honor of the 1,320th anniversary of the poet’s death.

01-29 Oku
Princess Ōku
661 – 702

From tomorrow ever
Shall I regard as brother
The twin-peaked mountain of Futagami-
I, daughter of man!
I would break off the branch
Of the flowering staggerbush
Growing on the rocky shore;
But no one says he lives
To whom I would show it!

To Him Who is Feared

We present this work in honor of Tisha B’Av.

07-18 Ben Kalir
Eleazar Ben Kalir
c. 570 – c. 640


To Him who is feared a Crown will I bring.
Thrice Holy each day acclaim Him my King;
At altars, ye mighty, proclaim loud His praise,
And multitudes too may whisper His lays.
Ye angels, ye men, whose good deeds He records—
Sing, He is One, His is good, our yoke is the Lord’s!
Praise Him trembling to-day, His mercy is wide—
Ye who fear for His wrath—it doth not abide!
Ye seraphim, high above storm clouds may sing;
Men and angels make music, th’ All-seeing is king.
As ye open your lips, at His Name they shall cease—
Transgression and sin—in their place shall be peace;
And thrice shall the Shophar re-echo your song
On mountain and altar to whom both belong.


Translation by Lady Katie Magnus


Lu Zhaolin
634 – 684


Chang’an’s broad avenues link up with narrow lanes,
There black oxen and white horses, coaches of fragrant woods,
Jade-fit palanquins go left and right, past the mansions of lords,
Gold riding whips in a long train move toward barons’ homes.
Dragons bite jeweled canopies, catching the morning sun,
The phoenix disgorges dangling fringe, draped with evening’s red clouds.
A hundred yards of gossamer strands strain to enwrap the trees,
While a single graceful flock of birds join their cries among flowers.
Cries among flowers, playful butterflies, by the palace’s thousand gates,
Emerald trees, silver terraces, in a thousand different colors.
Double-decked passage ways, intertwined windows make the union of lovers,
Paired tower gates, rising layers of tiles sweeping as phoenix wings.
The Liang clan’s mural tower rises into the skies,
The Emperor of Han’s golden columns jut straight beyond the clouds.
But those you gaze on before great buildings are those you do not know,
And those you meet upon the paths, no acquaintance of yours.
Tell me of her who plays the pipes off into purple mists —
She has spent her years of beauty studying dancing.
If we could become the sole fish, why would we flee from death?
Could we but be the mandarin ducks, no yearnings to be immortals.
The sole fish, the mandarin ducks; they are truly worth of our yearning —
They come and go in pairs, can’t you see them now?
Most I hate that the single phoenix woven in the top of the drapery;
Most I love the swallow pair fixed on the curtained door.
Pairs of swallows fly in their pairs around the painted beams,
There, gauze hangings, the kingfisher quilt, scent of tumeric.
Then one by one, hairdos like clouds, cicada-wing curls hanging,
Eyebrows slender like new moons above the tawny oils
Tawny with oil, white with powder, they step from coaches,
Charms within, loveliness within, hearts not fixed on one.
Bewitching boys on jeweled horses with ironblack spots,
And courtesans, pins of coiling dragons, golden legs bent under.
In the office of the Censorate the crows cry by night,
By the Constabulary gate the sparrows go to roost.
Mightily rising Vermillion Walls look down on roads like jade,
In the distance, azure carriages sink behind gold-fasten bastions.
Slings are clasped, falcons flown north of Duling,
Lots drawn for killing by sworn companions west of the Wei.
Greeting each other the bravos with lotus-hilted swords,
Spending nights together on peach and plum roads, the houses of singing girls.
At sunset in the singing girls’ houses are skirts of purple gauze,
And a verse of clear singing comes swelling from their mouths.
In the northern halls night after night, people move as the moon,
On southern paths at every dawn, riders move as the clouds.
Southward paths and northern halls link through the Northern Quarter,
Then great crossroads and wide highways rein in the Markets.
Plaint willows and green ash hang brushing the earth,
Sweet air and red dust rise darkening the skies.
Royal heralds of the House of Han come, a thousand outriders,
Kingfisher colored liquors in parrot shaped goblets.
Blouses of gauze and jeweled sashes are taken off for you,
The songs of Yan, the dances of Wu for you performed.
But there are others bold and splendid called “minister” and “general,”
The day turns, the heavens roll, and neither will yield to the other.
Haughty spirits ever willing to push aside a [morally upright] Guanfu,
A hold on power which cannot give in the least to a Minister Xiao.
Haughty spirits, hold on power, the stuff of ruthless heroes.
Blue Dragon and Purple Swallow, great steeds in the spring wind.
They said themselves their songs and dances would last a thousand years,
And claimed a pride and extravagance beyond the Great Lords.
But the glory of each thing in its season was not to wait on them,
Mulberry fields and green oceans interchange in an instant.
Where once were the golden stairs, the halls of white marble,
We now see only the green pines remaining.
Silent there in the emptiness the dwelling of Yang Xiong,
Year after year, every year, his whole bed covered with books.
Alone are the cassia flowers, blooming on South Mountain,
They fly back and forth, fly into his sleeves.