The friends we had, the friends we left
Along the siren streets
A signal past, a thousand thefts
In red light, white light beats
Oh, where can I rest in this hidden town
As wind comes whistling through
In light and dark, as it rains down,
A dancer flails there too
Somewhere she dwells, the chastised nun,
A remnant work of whim
Perhaps it’s one or maybe none
She waits and waits for him
The courtyard halls where beauty haunts
In bellows of burial bells
At night it sleeps its lot of want
My dear old friend who’s parting West
Beneath the Yellow Towers;
While falling on the Yangzhou lands
Are mists and springtime flowers.
Your orphan boat’s a distant shade,
That sails where blue skies go;
I look upon the water tides—
Until the end they flow.
By Li Bai, tr. from the Chinese by Frank Watson
For Boris and Miona
They find a garden lush with plum-air scents
As spring sun filters through the dew-dust leaves
And subtle sighs arise while fruit ferments,
For Eden enters Earth when minds conceive.
Within the garden deep an oak tree grows,
Preserving plum and fruit from sudden squalls
With roots that sink in soil where winds oppose,
To keep the flowers fresh as flurries fall.
Emerging from primordial chaos fair,
This Earth now holds the veins where plum wine flows:
Successive years of falling leaves, as gold-
Enameled flowers flitter out, around
The garden nook, with simple stories told
To fragrant crowds at play on dampened ground.
This time we sipped a cup of coffee cold
And spoke of speckled, thinning hair once brown;
A crow called out, as if a black-winged scold
That hits its mark and pulls us twisting down.
Through God we came from chaos to earth and skies,
And painted all that’s dark a color bright,
As child-like wonder shows through gleaming eyes
I shut my door, the sun begins to set.
In spring next year the grass will turn to green,
But if you’ll come back here, I know not yet.
Shān zhōng xiāng sòng bà，
Rì mù yǎn chái fēi。
Chūn cǎo nián nián lǜ，
Wáng sūn guī bù guī。
Literal Character Translation
Afar I row a little boat,
An island of song and show;
Ashore I leave a nighttime note
Of footsteps laid below.
For now it drizzles mist ahead,
Mixed in with dark night green;
I walk a path where willows tread,
A painted river scene.
I open the door and see a room
Of skirts in red and plum;
With girls a-sway and arms abloom,
The beating of a drum.
I watch until my bottle goes,
The noise will leave us soon;
Outside a child unfolds a rose,
Her soul beneath moon.
Today no toll in work or soul
As spring is green with ease;
In Central Park I make my mark
To see the cherry trees.
A bird lets out its welcome shout
Beneath the building glass;
The wind lets bare a woman’s hair
In lovely, flowing mass.
I know the moon will come out soon,
For now the sun’s on track;
I gaze at bluffs with cherry puffs,
Unwilling to go back.
Ten years ago I saw you on a beach
Beneath the empty sky, a silhouette
Of sun and sand, a dream within my reach
Beside a patch of dawn-lit grass still wet.
But in the great wide distance lies a dream
Mixed in with siren sounds that echo still,
A vow that’s found in clouds that rise from steam,
Like birds set free who sing beyond a hill.
He swims a sea of dark red wine
To drink the hours, soft and sweet,
And wash away the jeweled vine
Alone, beside a narrow street.
In spring the birds shall flit about,
As nighttime feasts can last till dawn;
But then he’ll lift his head and shout,
A wolf astray that’s too far gone.
Look at the bird, he spreads his wings,
The image stays like a song I sing.
He flies in a tune above, below,
So rich and free from the toil I know.
For ages I gaze at the sun and moon,
The distant clouds, whose path still looms.
For hundreds of rich, who know not right,
They do no good, but use their might.
Original Chinese Poem