Monday, February 27, 2023

While Recovering from a Drinking-Bout in the Elder Zhang’s House in Lu-zhou, I Sent This Poem to My Fourteenth Elder Male Cousin through the Agency of a River Messenger.



While Recovering from a Drinking-Bout in the Elder

Zhang’s House in Lu-zhou, I Sent This Poem to My

Fourteenth Elder Male Cousin through the

Agency of a River Messenger.


By Li He

Translated by Frodsham, J. D.


Only when autumn comes to Zhao-guan,

Will you know how cold it is up here in Zhao.1

I tied this letter to a short-feathered summons,2

Cut out a long screed for a recital of woes.

Through the clear dawn I slumbered in my sickness,

While the sparse plane-trees cast fresh emeralds down.

The city crows cried from white battlements,3

Military bugles saddened the mist in the reeds.4

With turban askew, I lifted the silken curtains,5

In dried-up pools the broken lotus lay.

On the wooden window, traces of silver picture,6

On the stone steps water had left its coins.7


The traveller’s wine caught at my ailing lungs,8

While songs of parting rose from languid strings.

I sealed this poem with a double string of tears,

And culled a single orchid wet with dew.

The sedge is growing old, the cricket weeping,

While broken gargoyles peer from withered pines.9

Waking, I sit astride a horse from Yan,10

Dreaming, I voyage on a boat through Chu.11

Pepper and cinnamon poured above long mats!

Perch and bream sliced upon tortoise-shell!12

Surely you can’t forget the roads leading home,

To spend your youth on river-girdled isles?13


Li He wrote this poem at the end of his life, while he was staying with his friend Zhang Che in Lu-zhou. At this time hostilities had been recommenced against the rebel general, Wang Cheng-zong. This explains the presence of the River Messenger, a military courier who travelled in the region south of the Yangzi bearing urgent messages.

1. Zhao-kuan was in the south, Lu-zhou was up north, in the ancient

territory of Zhao. Hence the marked difference in climate.

2. A traditional name given to urgent military despatches.

3. The battlements were white with mist.

4. A reference to the military situation.

5. His “turban” was a night-cap.

6. “Silver”: perhaps traces of frost. Perhaps the remains of a picture

done with silver paint.

7. “Coins”: round patches of moss, looking like copper coins covered

with verdigris, were growing on the steps of the artificial hill in the


8. “Traveller’s wine”: the wine he had been drinking while travelling.

9. A little evergreen bush often found growing on the roofs of old

Chinese houses, where it finds a footing in the dirt that accumulates

between the ridge-shaped tiles, is known as “roof-pine.” The

“tile-animals” were highly coloured ceramic beasts placed on roofs

to ward off evil influences.

10. Yan was the old name for the territory in the north next to Zhao. It

was famous for its horses.

11. Zhao-guan was in former Chu territory.

12. Wine flavoured with pepper or cinnamon was a southern delicacy, as were perch and bream (sunfishes).

13. Island in the Yangzi, i.e., in the south. He is half-playfully asking his cousin whether the delights of the south are going to prevent their reunion.


Li He, styled Chang-ji, a native of Fu-chang country, Henan, was born in A.D. 790, the year of the Horse, to a minor branch of the imperial house of Tang. Li He is the bad-boy poet of the late Tang dynasty. He began writing at the age of seven and died at twenty-six from alcoholism or, according to a later commentator, “sexual dissipation,” or both. An obscure and unsuccessful relative of the imperial family, he would set out at dawn on horseback, pause, write a poem, and toss the paper away. A servant boy followed him to collect these scraps in a tapestry bag.

 Long considered far too extravagant and weird for Chinese taste, Li He was virtually excluded from the poetic canon until the mid-twentieth century. Today, as the translator and scholar Anne M. Birrell, writes, “Of all the Tang poets, even of all Chinese poets, he best speaks for our disconcerting times.” Modern critics have compared him to Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Keats, and Trakl.

The above one is one of his last verses. Verse of this quality, written when he was only twenty-five or so, makes one realize just how great a loss literature sustained by his untimely death. For at this juncture he was very near the end. We do not know precisely from what disease he was suffering, though repeated references to his emaciated condition in his verse, combined with other symptoms—his prematurely white hair, his fever, and his weakness—would seem to indicate pulmonary tuberculosis. 

An ancient source (Yun xian za ji ) carries the story of a visitor who saw our poet “spit on the floor three times”.In any case, the disease that had haunted him for years was now pressing the attack home for the last time. He gave up his post in Lu-zhou and returned to Chang-gu, where he died sometime during the year 816, at the age of 26 or so. He left behind him a corpus of verse which, strangely enough, has not enjoyed widespread popularity in China since the Song dynasty.

What is remarkable aboout his poetry is his anguish, his visionary nihilism, and, above all, his tragic early death (probably from that most romantic illness, tuberculosis. Note the allusion to his lung complaint in the above poem).

Yet Li’s poetry, though it does bear some resemblance to the nineteenth-century decadents and to the work of some difficult modernists, deserves appreciation for its own sake.


Source for the poem and the notes : The Collected Poems of Li He by Frodsham, J. D.Published by The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press


Friday, July 15, 2022

Ars Poetica

 No photo description available.

 Ars Poetica

By Blaga Dimitrova
Translated by Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman.
Write each of your poems
as if it were your last.
In this century, saturated with strontium,
charged with terrorism,
flying with supersonic speed,
death comes with terrifying suddenness.
Send each of your words
like a last letter before execution,
a call carved on a prison wall.
You have no right to lie,
no right to play pretty little games.
You simply won’t have time
to correct your mistakes.
Write each of your poems,
tersely, mercilessly,
with blood — as if it were your last. 
I love the Poems of Blaga. Blaga Dimitrova (1922–2003) was not only one of Bulgaria’s most loved and celebrated poet but also an important figure in her nation’s political life, becoming the first vice president of Bulgaria after the fall of the Communist government. This poem is from her book titled "Scars "translated by Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman.
I love the sense of urgency and certitude that this poem conveys considering the times we live in. Ars Poetica is a term meaning "The Art of Poetry" or "On the Nature of Poetry"
Note: Bulgaria was partly affected by Chernobyl Disaster by fallout in April and May 1986, with the detection of radioactive iodine, strontium and caesium.
Scars by Blaga Dimitrova

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

In Raspberry Season


 In Raspberry Season
By Rolf Jacobsen
Translated by Roger Greenwald

In raspberry season
the wasps come into the house
and can’t find their way out again; day after day
they dash against the windowpanes, sooma-sooma-soom
until we can sweep them out on the dustpan.

For you and me too
there are barriers we can’t understand.
Time after time we throw ourselves against something we
       cannot see
until they sweep us out one day on the dustpan.
Unless, by chance,
someone on this earth or in the clouds
raises a window so we get through.

Rolf Jacobsen was one of Norway’s greatest modern poets. Garnering the highest praise of critics, Jacobsen won many of Norway’s and Sweden’s most prestigious literary awards, including the Swedish Academy’s Dobloug Prize and the Grand Nordic Prize, also known as the “Little Nobel.” But he also has earned a wide popular audience, because ordinary readers can understand and enjoy the way he explores the complex counterpoint of nature and technology, progress and self-destruction, daily life and cosmic wonder.( from introduction by Roger Greenwald)

I loved the apt imagery with which the poet depicts a human situation. There are many barriers in our day to day life: bureaucracy, red tapism, caste, gender, nationality, social stigma etc apart from psychological and emotional barriers. Think of millions of ordinary people who beat against these barriers and seek help. Perhaps some good Samaritans or the Almighty will see our plight and open the doors for our salvation.

Roger Greenwald is a renowned American poet and an award winning translator of Scandinavian poetry.













Source : Ref: North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen - A Bilingual Edition. Translated and edited by Roger Greenwald. University of Chicago Press, 2002. ISBN 0-226-39035-7. Winner of the Lewis Galantière Award from the American Translators Association.