The Owl

11-22 Jia Yi
Jia Yi
Chinese
c. 200 B.C. – c. 169 B.C.

 

In the year tan-o,
Fourth month, first month of summer,
The day kuei-tzu, when the sun was low in the west,
An owl came to my lodge
And perched on the corner of my mat,
Phlegmatic and fearless.
Secretly wondering the reason
The strange thing had come to roost,
I took out a book to divine it
And the oracle told me its secret:
“Wild bird enters the hall;
The master will soon depart.”
I asked and importuned the owl,
“Where is it I must go?
Do you bring good luck? Then tell me!
Misfortune? Relate what disaster!
Must I depart so swiftly?
And speak to me of the hour!”
The owl breathed a sigh,
Raised its head and beat its wings.
Its beak could utter no word,
But let me tell you what it sought to say:
All things alter and change,
Never a moment of ceasing,
Revolving, whirling, and rolling away,
Driven far off and returning again,
Form and breath passing onward,
Like the mutations of the cicada.
Profound, subtle, and illimitable,
Who can finish describing it?

Good luck must be followed by bad,
Bad in turn bow to good.
Sorrow and joy throng the gate,
Weal and woe in the same land.
Wu was powerful and great;
Under Fu-ch’a it sank in defeat.
Yüeh was crushed at K’uai-chi,
But Kou-chien made it an overlord.
Li Ssu, who went forth to greatness, at last
Suffered the five mutilations.
Fu Yüeh was sent into bondage,
Yet Wu Ting made him his aide.
Thus fortune and disaster
Entwine like the strands of a rope.
Fate cannot be told of,
For who shall know its ending?
Water, troubled, runs wild;
The arrow, quick-sped, flies far.
All things, whirling and driving,
Compelling and pushing each other, roll on.
The clouds rise up, the rains come down,
In confusion inextricably joined.
The Great Potter fashions all creatures,
Infinite, boundless, limit unknown.
There is no reckoning Heaven,
Nor divining beforehand the Tao.
The span of life is fated;
Man cannot guess its ending.

Heaven and earth are the furnace,
The workman, the Creator;
His coal is the yin and the yang,
His copper, all things of creation.
Joining, scattering, ebbing and flowing,
Where is there persistence or rule?
A thousand, a myriad mutations,
Lacking and end’s beginning.
Suddenly they form a man:
How is this worth taking thought of?
They are transforming again in death:
Should this perplex you?
The witless take pride in his being,
Scorning others, a lover of self.
The man of wisdom sees vastly
And knows what all things will do.
The covetous run after riches,
The impassioned pursue a fair name;
The proud die struggling for power,
While the people long only to live.
Each drawn and driven onward,
They hurry east and west.
The great man is without bent;
A million changes are as one to him.
The stupid man chained by custom
Suffers like a prisoner bound.
The sage abandons things
And joins himself to the Tao alone,
While the multitudes in delusion
With desire and hate load their hearts.
Limpid and still, the true man
Finds his peace in the Tao alone.

Discarding wisdom, forgetful of form,
Transcendent, destroying self,
Vast and empty, swift and wild,
He soars on wings of the Tao.
Borne on the flood he sails forth;
He rests on the river islets.
Freeing his body to Fate,
Unpartaking of self,
His life is a floating,
His death a rest.
And stillness like the stillness of deep springs,
Like an unmoored boat drifting aimlessly,
Valuing not the breath of life,
He embraces and drifts with Nothing.
Comprehending Fate and free of sorrow,
The man of virtue heads no bounds.
Petty matters, weeds and thorns–
What are they to me?

from Dream of the Red Chamber

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

10-01 Cao
Cao Xuequin
Chinese
715 – 763

 

I gaze around in the west wind, sick at heart;
A sad season this of red smartweed and white reeds;
No sign is there of autumn by the bare fence round my plot.
Yet I dream of attenuated blooms in the frost.
My heart follows the wild geese back to the distant south,
Sitting lonely at dusk I hear pounding of washing blocks.
Who will pity me pining away for the yellow flowers?
On the Double Ninth Festival they will reappear.

Sent to My Husband

09-03 Huang
Huang E
Chinese
1498 – 1569

 

“Wild geese have never flown as far as Hengyang”;
How then will my embroidered words be carried all the way to Yongchang?
Like the willow’s flowers by the end of spring, I am ill-fated indeed;
In the mists of that alien land, you feel the pangs of despair.
“Oh, to go home, to go home,” you mourn to the year’s bitter end.
“Oh, if it would rain, if it would rain,” I complain to the bright dawn.
One hears of vain promises that you could be set free;
When will the Golden Cock reach all the way to Yelang?

River Travel

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

Yu Xuanji
Chinese
844 – 869

 

The River holds Wuchang in the crook of its arm.
At Parrot Island—look!—the doors of ten thousand homes.
Spring sleep in a pleasure barge isn’t done by morning.
I dream that I’m a butterfly seeking flowers too.

Misty flowers drift now into Cormorant Harbour,
though the painted barge still skirts Parrot Island.
Drunk we sleep, awake we sing, quite aware of nothing,
till morning surprises us at the Han River’s mouth.

The Almond Blossoms of Chao Village

We present this work in honor of Chinese New Year.

Bai Juyi
Chinese
772 – 846

 

For fifteen long years,
Times without number
I have come
To see the red almond-blossoms
Open in the spring.

Now I am growing old—
I am all of seventy-three,
And it is hard for my old legs
To come thus far.

I fear that this time
Is the last,
And I have come
To bid the red blossoms of the almond
A long farewell.

Composed at Random

Gu Taiqing
Chinese
1799 – c. 1877

 

Human life is an endless struggle
The post-horse and plow-ox.
On the brows of the Daoist sadness never grows:
Quietly holding a book of immortality, seated by the window,
What else is there to seek?

Prospects disappear, far, far away,
Months and years are hard to detain.
In a hundred years’ time everyone will be a pat of mud,
So arrange a firm and safe place in your own mind
And let the boat float with the stream.

The Trail to Cold Mountain

We present this work in honor of the Chung Yeung Festival.

Hanshan
Chinese
c. 9th Century

 

Where’s the trail to Cold Mountain?
Cold Mountain? There’s no clear way.
Ice, in summer, is still frozen.
Bright sun shines through thick fog.
You won’t get there following me.
Your heart and mine are not the same.
If your heart was like mine,
You’d have made it, and be there!