Viewing Spring

As I post this, spring arrived some 55 minutes ago, at 3:45 PDT. Already the work of spring “is going on with joyful enthusiasm,” to borrow from John Muir. Even here in Southern California, where it was summer all winter, just knowing that the season has turned is a psychological effect, making the heart feel much lighter, and brighter.

Spring has always been particularly inspirational to poets. Today, I will share with you a spring poem by Tu Fu (Du Fu), one of the greatest of Chinese poets. He wrote the poem in 757, when he was captured by rebels during the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763), a revolt against the Tang Dynasty the engulfed the land in a long, devastating war. Tu Fu uses the images of flowers and birds to convey the sufferings experienced by the people during the rebellion.

This is my own version of the poem, based on a literal rendering of the Chinese characters and several English translations.

IMG_3386b3Viewing Spring

In the torn country, hills and rivers remain,
Spring comes to cities, grass and trees flourish.
Wartime touches even flowers to shed tears;
Lonely birds feel regret in their startled hearts.
Battle fires have burned for three moons;
News from home is worth ten thousand coins.
This white head I scratch has become so thin
That my pin can barely hold the strands in place.


2 thoughts on “Viewing Spring

  1. David, well done. Spring and war – not the usual combination in our thoughts, but distressingly common in reality.

    I would find interesting a bit of discussion about your process here, perhaps citing, or linking to the “literal rendering of the Chinese characters and several English translations.” Then we could all play along at home.

    1. What I mean is taking each Chinese character and rendering into English, for instance the first line of the poem literally reads, “Country broken mountain river remain.” I used to have to find the radical in each character and look it up in my handy-dandy Chinese dictionary, which could be a time consuming process. Nowadays, you go online. There used to be a site where you could click on the Chinese character and get an instant translation. For this poem, has “50 translations of a poem by Du Fu.”

      I also have books with translations of Du Fu/Tu Fu’s poetry by Burton Watson and Kenneth Rexroth.

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