Monday, June 20, 2011


Profitable Friends

Po Chu-i, The Pine Trees in the Courtyard (A.D. 820), tr. Arthur Waley in More Translations from the Chinese (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1919), pp. 74-75:
                Below the hall
The pine-trees grow in front of the steps,
Irregularly scattered,—not in ordered lines.
                Some are tall and some are low:
The tallest of them is six roods high;
                The lowest but ten feet.
                They are like wild things
                And no one knows who planted them.
They touch the walls of my blue-tiled house;
Their roots are sunk in the terrace of white sand.
Morning and evening they are visited by the wind and moon;
Rain or fine,—they are free from dust and mud.
In the gales of autumn they whisper a vague tune;
From the suns of summer they yield a cool shade.
At the height of spring the fine evening rain
Fills their leaves with a load of hanging pearls.
At the year's end the time of great snow
Stamps their branches with a fret of glittering jade,
Of the Four Seasons each has its own mood;
Among all the trees none is like another.
Last year, when they heard I had bought this house,
Neighbours mocked and the World called me mad—
That a whole family of twice ten souls
Should move house for the sake of a few pines!
Now that I have come to them, what have they given me?
They have only loosened the buckles of my care.
Yet even so, they are "profitable friends,"
And fill my need of "converse with wise men."
Yet when I consider how, still a man of the world,
In belt and cap I scurry through dirt and dust,
From time to time my heart twinges with shame
That I am not fit to be master of my pines!
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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