Poems of Guanxiu Translated from Classical Chinese
Five Found Poems. No.1
Ǒu Zuò Wǔ Shǒu Qí Yī
shuí xìn xīn huǒ duō，duō néng fén dà guó。
shuí xìn bìn shàng sī，jīng jīng chū cán fù。
cháng wén yǎng cán fù，wèi xiǎo shàng sāng shù。
xià shù wèi cán jī，ér tí yì bú gù。
yī chūn gāo xuè jìn，qǐ zhǐ yīng wáng fù。
rú hé kù lì kù，jìn wéi sōu jiāng qù。
cán é wéi dié fēi，wěi yè mǎn kōng zhī。
yuān suō yǔ hèn jī，yī jiàn yī zhān yī
Would you believe
the fire of one’s greed can be so inextinguishable,
enough to burn down an entire country?
Would you believe the silk cloth on your temple’s hair,
every single thread comes from a silkworm’s belly?
I once heard a tale about a silkworm lady,
who, before break of dawn, climbed up a mulberry tree,
and hurried down, for fear that the worms might get hungry
the cries of her own baby,
for even a whole spring’s sweat and toil,
cannot meet the emperor’s tax rolls.
How harsh can tax collectors be?
They won’t stop till the last inch of cloth.
The silkworms turned into moths, flew away in a hurry
occupying the bald branches of leftover leaves,
unfitting to feed.
The spindle and the loom, now full of sorrow and grief,
she couldn’t bear to look, dreading they’d wet her sleeves.
Seeing Friend off to Korea
Sòng Rén Guī Xīn Luó
zuó yè xī fēng qǐ，sòng jūn guī gù xiāng。
jī chóu qióng dì jiǎo，jiàn rì shàng fú sāng。
hǎi qì sheng chū jì，cháo hén zā luàn huāng。
cóng zī tóu gè bái，hún mèng yī xiàng wàng。
Last night west wind blows,
I see you off for your home.
Sorrow upon sorrow, as far as world’s end,
Eyes upon the sun, climbing up Heaven’s tree.
Mirage emerges at rainclear,
Tide tracks corral untidy wilds.
From here our hairs will each silver,
Soul on one side, dream on the other.
Twenty-Four Mountain Poems, No. VIII
Shān Jū Èr Shí Sì Shǒu Qí Bā
xīn xīn xīn bú zhù xī yí，shí wū chán yán bìn fà chuí。
yǎng zhú bú chú dāng lù sǔn，ài sōng liú dé ài rén zhī。
fén xiāng kāi juàn xiá sheng qì，juǎn bó míng xīn yuè zài chí。
duō shǎo gù rén tóu jìn bái，bú zhī jīn rì yòu hé zhī。
Mind, mind, mind
mind lives no ephemeral realm,
Stone house on a steep cliff
is where my side hair hangs.
To grow bamboo
weed out not the sprouts:
to care for pine tree
keep a road-blocking branch.
I light up incense, open scrolls,
clouds climb like steps:
roll up foil, calm mind,
moon falls at pool.
How many old friends, seeking the Way,
have silvered their hairs,
how I wonder where they are tonight.
Written on the Boyan Roadway
Pó Yáng Dào Zhōng Zuò
Pó Yáng gǔ àn biān，wú yī shù wú chán。
lù zhuǎn tā shān dà，zhēn qū xiāng sī piān。
hú píng fān jìn luò，tiān dàn yuè chū yuán。
hé shì yáo yún xià，gàn gē mǎn xǔ tián。
Along the ancient Boyan shore
Not a cicada nor tree
Road turns distant mountains wide
Washing stones drive homesickness astray
Lake flattens out all the sails go down
Sky dims moon begins to round
How come under the high clouds
Swords and shields fill up these farms
Twenty-Four Mountain Poems, I
Shān Jū Èr Shí Sì Shǒu Qí Yī
xiū huà xuān huá shì shì nán，shān wēng zhī hé zhù shēn shān。
shù sheng qīng qìng shì fēi wài，yī gè xiān rén tiān dì jiān。
lǜ pǔ kōng jiē yún rǎn rǎn，yì qín líng cǎo shuǐ chán chán。
wú rén yǔ xiàng qún rú shuō，yán guì zhī gāo yì hǎo bān
About the clamors and bothers
Of the day, an old man finds
His home right
in the mountains.
A few clear strike on the sounding stone
That is beyond right and wrong:
An idle man
that is between heaven and earth.
Green garden, empty steps,
clouds billow and billow:
exotic bird, enchanted grass,
water flows and flows.
There are no pedants to arm-wrestle thoughts,
But the tall cinnamon branch is grabbable if I stretch my hand.
Monk poet Guan-xiu (832-912) was a renowned Chan (Zen) Buddhist hermit, wanderer, and artists of many disciplines at a turmoil time of Medieval China. Like many Chan monks before him, he embodied poetry in his religious meditation and vice versa. Unlike those hermits of peaceful times, he wandered the war torn landscape in the aftermath of one of the most tragic periods in human history—a civil war that decimated up to 80% of the people of the most populous country on earth then (est. 50 million). Reflecting this drastic social change, he was one of the first to break through the old poetic conventions, as we see him experiment with more vernacular tones, more humanistic perspectives, and more variable musical patterns. “Five Poems of Spring Wilds” is a good example of how he combined traditional forms of regular line lengths and landscape poetry with a subtle yet chilling twist of images of aftermath of war and how common people had to bear its consequences. No translation has been published in English, but I believe he has tremendous relevance to today. Many difficulties lie in translating from Classical Chinese, including its grammar, rhymes, and ambiguity—it is no less than reinventing them in English. I aimed to respect its musical patterns by and large but at times be loyal to its imagery by utilizing more line breaks and spaces.
Xiaoqiu is a Chinese poet who currently is a Black Mountain Institute PhD Fellow at UNLV. He is an editor at Interim. His novel The Man with a Camera Eye is a semi-finalist for the 2021 Autumn House fiction prize. His own and translated poems have been published in Ghost City Review, The Antonym, Lunch Ticket, and Beyond Words Literary Magazine. He enjoys rain in a desert.