Friday, May 5, 2017

Presented to Wei Pa, Gentleman in Retirement

by Tu Fu 

translated by Burton Watson

Life is not made for meetings;
like stars at opposite ends of the sky we move.
What night is it, then, tonight,
when we can share the light of this lamp?
Youth — how long did it last?
The two of us grayheaded now,
we ask about old friends — half are ghosts;
cries of unbelief stab the heart.
Who would have thought? — twenty years
and once again I enter your house.
You weren't married when I left you;
now suddenly a whole row of boys and girls!
merrily greeting their father's friend,
asking me what places I've been.
Before I finish answering,
you send the boys to set out wine and a meal,
spring scallions cut in night rain,
new cooked rice mixed with yellow millet.
Meetings are rare enough, you say;
pour the wine till we've downed ten cups!
But ten cups do not make me drunk;
your steadfast love is what moves me now.
Tomorrow hills and ranges will part us,
the wide world coming between us again.

It was with immense sadness I learned about the death of Professor Burton Watson. His "The Columbia book of Chinese Poetry” was my first introduction to Chinese Poetry. Notwithstanding many other later translators like David Hinton, this fine volume of Chinese poetry has remained as my all-time favourite anthology of Chinese Poetry. 

How beautifully has Tu Fu, one of the greatest Chinese poets of Tang Dynasty,  written this parting toast to his friend and how nimbly Professor Burton Watson has translated it! The passage of time, which is the theme of the poem, is captured with immaculate emotional intensity in this lovely poem. Rest in peace Professor Watson. 

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