Desolate City, The: A Rhapsody

Broad and far-reaching, the level plain,
Hurrying south to Cangwu and the Sea of Zhang,
Racing north to Purple Barriers, the Wild Goose Gate,
Its barge canal like a tow rope to haul it about,
Its Kunlun of hills to serve as an axle,
A fastness of double rivers, of many-fold passes,
A corridor where four roads meet, where five pass through
Long ago, at the time of its greatest prospering,
Carriages clashed axle heads,
Men jostled shoulders,
House rows and alley gates crowded the earth,
Songs and piping shrilled to the sky
There was wealth to be wrung from fields of salt,
Profit to be pared from copper mountains;
Its talented and strong ones grew rich and mighty,
Its horses and riders were handsome and well trained
So it could flout the laws of Qin,
Overstep the regulations of Zhou,
Troweling smooth its lofty battlements,
Channeling out the deepest moats,
Hoping to prolong its generations with the help of fair fortune.
Pounded earth was raised to form a forest of parapets,
An awesome file of turrets and beacon towers,
Taller in measure than the Five Mountains,
Broader across than the Three Dikes,
Precipitous as a sheer escarpment,
Rising straight up like a bank of long clouds.
They were fitted with magnets to guard against assault,
Daubed with russet clay to lend the fancy of design.
Gazing on the firmness of those gates and bastions,
You'd think one lord could hold them for ten thousand years;
Yet now, when three dynasties have come and gone,
Five hundred years and more have passed,
They lie split like melons, like bean pods broken open.

Damp mosses cling to the well,
Tangles of kudzu vine snare the path;
Halls are laced with vipers and crawling things,
Musk deer and flying squirrel quarrel by the stairs
Tree goblin and mountain sprite,
Field rat, fox in the wall
Howl at the wind, whimper in the rain,
At dusk appearing, scampering off at dawn.
Hungry falcons whet their beaks,
Cold hawks hiss at those who menace their chicks;
Lurking tigers, crouching cats
Suck blood and dine on flesh
Thickets of fallen trees clog the road,
The old thoroughfare, deep and overgrown;
White poplars shed their leaves early,
Bleak grasses withered long ago;
Breath of frost, keen and biting;
Soo, soo , the bullying of the wind:
A lone tumbleweed trembles by itself,
Puffs of sand for no reason suddenly start up
Dense copses murky and unending,
A jungle of weeds and brush leaning on each other;
The circling moat caved in long ago,
Towering battlements — they too have tumbled:
One looks straight out a thousand li or more,
Seeing only the whirls of yellow dust
Dwell on it, listen in silence —
It wounds the heart, breaking it in two.
And so
The painted doors, the gaily stitched hangings,
Sites where once were halls of song, pavilions of the dance,
Jasper pools, trees of jadeite,
Lodges for those who hunt in woods, who fish the shores,
Music of Wu, Cai, Qi, Qin,
Vessels in shapes of fish and dragon, sparrow and horse —
All have lost their incense, gone to ash,
Their radiance engulfed, their echoes cut off.
Mysterious princess from the Eastern Capital,
Beautiful lady from a southern land,
With heart of orchis, limbs of white lawn,
Marble features, carmine lip —
None whose soul is not entombed in somber stone,
Whose bones do not lie dwindling in the dust
Do you recall now what joy it was to share your lord's carriage?
The pain of being banished to a palace apart?
Is it Heaven's way
To make so many taste sorrow?
Bring the lute — I will sing,
Fashioning a song of the Desolate City.
The song says:

Border winds hurrying
Above the castle cold.
Well and pathway gone from sight,
Hill and grave mound crumbling.
A thousand years,
Ten thousand ages,
All end thus —
What is there to say?
Author of original: 
Pao Chao
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