Sunday, July 01, 2018


A While Ago His Face Glowed Too

Liu Hsi-yi, "Song for White Hair," tr. Stephen Owen, The Great Age of Chinese Poetry: The High T'ang (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 17-18:
East of the walls of Lo-yang
    the flowers of peach and plum,
Flying here, flying away,
    into whose yard falling now?
And the young girls of Lo-yang
    grieve for their loveliness,
Walking they meet the fallen flowers
    and sigh their long-drawn sighs.
This year as the flowers fall
    their loveliness is changing.
Next year when the flowers bloom,
    who will still be here?
For I have seen cypress and pine
    smashed apart to kindling,
And heard that fields of mulberries
    have changed into the sea.
Those of the past will never again
    be east of Lo-yang's walls,
But people today still must face
    the winds that bring down flowers.
Every year, year after year,
    the flowers are always alike;
Year after year, every year,
    the people are not the same.
I send these words to boys in their prime,
    youths with glowing faces.
Have pity on one already dying,
    A white-haired old man.
The white hair of the old man
    is truly worthy your pity—
A while ago his face glowed too,
    a handsome young man.
You princelings, young noblemen
    beneath the flowering trees,
Clear singing, exquisite dancing
    before the falling flowers,
The Chamberlain's pool terrace,
    patterned as rich brocade,
And tower and hall of General Liang
    bear murals of the gods.
Then one morning lie down sick,
    no one knows your name,
And the pleasures of the springtime
    linger beside another.
Eyebrows gracefully curving—
    how long can they endure?
In an instant crane-white hair,
    tangled all like silk.
Look now to where from ancient days
    were lands of song and dancing.
Now nothing more than the brown of dusk
    and the lament of sparrows.

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