Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Looking in a Mirror

Fan Chengda (1126-1193), I was moved after looking at myself in a mirror on a spring day (tr. J.D. Schmidt, with his note):
By habit I never gave old age much thought,
And even now my youthful mind soars like a mountain.
But suddenly I begin to compare ages with my neighbors
And am startled to discover how much older I am than they are!
I never looked at myself carefully before,
And kept bragging about my youthful face, pink like a drunkard.
But today I've met my true self in this mirror —
I'm as wan and sallow as a withered lotus.
My body has somehow been magically transformed,
And I will pass my remaining years in infirmity.
I realize it's too late to get all worried about this,
But now that I know, what, alas, can I do?
The old sun and moon have been playing tricks on me,
But it's not worthwhile laughing at them or getting angry.
I must whet the sword that cuts away sadness,
For the lance that turns back time1 is useless to me now.
Young lads, who noisily celebrate the fair spring festival,
Call me to come out to dance and sing with them.
The very idea of this sets my blood on fire,
And I rise up, strong, to frisk and gambol about!

1Allusion to the account of a battle between Duke Yang of Lu and Han Gou described in the Huainanzi. When Duke Yang could not finish defeating his enemy before sunset, he waved his lance at the sun, which supposedly moved back toward the east. Index du Houai Nan Tseu (Taipei, repr. 1968), p. 61b.


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