The Book of Songs 28: All the Swallows Go a-Flying

 All the swallows go a-flying,
wing their way towards the pool.
A lady leaves for her new husband’s home,
I escort her far
across wild, open country;
finally I halt, look up, gaze after
till I see her no more.
My tears fall like raindrops.

All the swallows go a-flying,
soaring off and swooping down.
A lady goes to her new husband’s home,
I ride with her far along her way;
at last I stand, looking up, gazing after,
till I see her no more. Long and long
I wait there weeping.

All the swallows go a-flying,
singing shrill and warbling low.
A lady goes to her new husband’s home,
I escort her a long way southwards,
then I stop, look up after her
until I see her no more.
Heart-hurt’s real.

Jong Ren, lady peerless and unique,
of an unguessed depth of spirit,
so very warm, so very kind,
pure and modest, ever correct—
it’s only by trying to be
like the noble lords of old
that I, poor paltry man of today,
can seem brave now.


The Book of Songs 27: My Green Robe

My green robe, green, all lined in yellow—
how my heart aches at leaving you,
When will this pain be done?

My green robe, green with a yellow skirt—
how my heart hurts at leaving you,
when, oh when will this end?

Green and silken are the robes you wove for me.
I must think of the great men of olden times,
try to be blameless and brave as they.

No cloth, be it fine or coarse,
woven by strange or beloved hands
could keep the cold from a wound like this—
I must think of the men of ancient days,
I must try to control my heart.


 

Not for Money, Not for Everyone.

 Two and a half years ago I began studying the Heart Sutra. It rapidly became apparent that I would not get to the bottom of this text without Sanskrit, and this I did finally acquire.

 I have posted my Heart Sutra translation and commentary here.

I am done with print publication. Commercial publishing no longer takes an interest in literary or scholarly work (yes there are exceptions, but those are the exceptions, and becoming more exceptional by the year.) And just as well. Serious publication can be far more serious if one is not concerned with what will sell. And really, in an age when people routinely read books on their phones, there is no reason to publish in a 2000 year old format (the codex), or to impose a few dollars worth of obstacle between readers and authors, when sales yield the latter only negligible sums. The age of  information has ended the age of print, no one earns a living by their pen.

Let all knowledge be free, and the prize of achievement be the esteem of those one can esteem, and the good karma gained by sharing knowledge and insight.

The Book of Songs 26: Cedar Boat

 It drifts along, this cedar boat,
drifts as the current carries it;

I'm still awake, still can’t sleep,

I have my secret anxiety.

(There's no secret here: they're taking me

to a man and a marriage I hate.)

Poor me, there is no wine

could make this feel
like an idle pleasure trip.

My heart is not a mirror,
to swallow in silence whatever it has to see;
I've several brothers,
but I can't count on their help here;
I come to talk, to complain, and they—
they just get angry at me.

My heart’s not a rock on the path
you can simply roll out of the way,
my heart's not a mat
you can just fold up and set aside.
My station and my dignity?
Gradually, by degrees
things have worsened, infinitely.

My anxious heart is grieved, is grieved,
the rabble herd hate me for my pride;
already I’ve met with much suffering,
taken insults, and taunts.
Calm, rational words I tell myself
but my heart, it pounds, it pounds.

The sun recurs, ever unchanging.
O moon, why do you go
shrinking down to a sliver,
counting down days to the day I dread?
Anxiety’s penetrated my heart,
a stain that nothing can wash away.
Calm, rational words I repeat to myself
but I know I can’t flee, fly away.


 

Book of Songs 25: Five Pigs

 In the tall brush, in the reeds,
five wild pigs with a single shot!
Good riding, grooms and huntsmen, O!

In the tall brush, in the high grass,
five young pigs with a single shot!
Good riding, grooms and huntsmen, O!

Book of Songs 24: Royal Bride

 Nothing is known of this bride and groom beyond what is stated in the poem.

 

What’s this? Who is it, richly dressed
in a dress the color of plum-tree blossoms?
Musicians, a sweet and reverent strain,
the royal bride’s carriage arrives!

What’s the reason for this splendid dress,
bright as peach-tree flowers?
The daughter of the Marquis of Chee
is marrying King Ping’s heir!

How did she land him? With beauty's hook,
elegant silks were the line.
The daughter of the Marquis of Chee
weds the grandson of good King Ping.

Book of Songs 23: A Doe Lies Dead

Far in the forest where no one goes
a doe lies dead.
The poacher covered her body
with green weeds. No one will find her
before he comes back tonight.
In the forest, there’s a young woman,
all the springtime yearning in her heart.
A gentleman coaxes, entices her,
lucky man.

There’s many and many a tree in the forest
and under one a deer lies dead,
green weeds truss and cover her.
In those dense woods, where no one can see,
there’s a girl as beautiful as jade.

“Relax, just let me open this one button.”
A woman’s sigh. “Don't touch my belt,
no—" a long breath like a whisper,
“Don't! My little lapdog’s right here.
Stop! let me calm my little dog
so he doesn't bark.”

 


The Book of Songs 22: The River Jiang

The river Jiang accepts the streams that feed it.
Madame would not accept us.
Her own younger sisters, married along with her to become
number two and number three wives.
She didn't accept us,
but later she’d regret this.

The river Jiang allows islands,
many an island amid its waves.
Madame wouldn’t endure us,
younger sisters, the lesser wives.
But she’d learn to live with us in time.

The river Jiang forms branches, divides
its waters among the thirsty fields.
Madame didn't pass us on
to her husband then, but now
she sends us in to him, with a grin,
whistling a song.


The Book of Songs 21: Three, Four, Five


Three, four, five
stars left in the east,
tiny, sparkling sharp
in a brightening sky.
Hurry, we leave when night does,
and dark’s departing, quickly now, hurry,
concubines of the duke,
arriving at dusk, departing at dawn,
wives, but not quite wives:
our fates are not the same.

Orion and the Pleiades
are now a faint sparkle of stars.
Hurry, we leave when night does,
and dark's departing, quickly now,
hurry, concubines of the duke,
arriving at dusk, departing at dawn
with the bedding we brought,
our own quilts and sheets,
in our arms, wives,
but not quite wives,
our fates is not like theirs.


 

The Book of Songs 20: The Plum Tree

 The plum tree’s letting its fruit fall now, 
seven remain, they're ready to drop.
All the gentlemen court me,
one of them will be lucky soon.

The plum tree’s letting its fruit fall now,
three still hang there, ready to drop.
All the gentlemen court me,
one of them won’t let this chance slip.

The plum tree’s letting its fruits fall now,
you don't need a basket to gather what’s left.
All the gentlemen court me,
one of them should really speak up!


 

The Book of Songs 18: Lamb-Skin Coats

 Lamb-skin coats,
five white silk fringes on each.

Lords leave the duke,
go home to dine,
defer, "After you!" "No, after you!"

Sheep-skin soft coats,
five white silk sewn seams on each.
Lords leave the duke,
go home to dine,
defer, "After you!" "No, after you!"

Lamb-skins, tailored, five pockets each,
sewn with white silk, cleverly cut.
Lords leave the duke,
go home to dine,
defer, "After you!" "No, after you!"

 


 

The Book of Songs 19: Listen to that Thunder

Listen to that thunder rumble,
echoing over sunlit South Mountain,
How could he leave here?
Is a little bit of leisure so unthinkable?
O, hurry, hurry back, my lord,
back home, back to me!

Listen to that thunder rumble,
echoing over South Mountain’s sides.
How could he leave here?
Never, never time to rest, never time to think?
O hurry, hurry back, my lord,
back home, back to me!

Listen to that thunder rumble,
echoing down South Mountain valley.
How could he leave here?
Would it be too much to ask, for him to have a home?
O, hurry, hurry back, my lord,
back home, back to me!


 

The Book of Songs 17: Like a Rat

 The road is sodden, soaked with rain.
You can’t deny that path’s too wet

for walking, dawn or dewy eve.

I do not care to walk such roads.

The sparrow’s the avian emblem of love,
but that doesn't mean his beak isn’t sharp.
Just such a lovebird’s pecking a hole
in my bedroom wall,
a sparrow nobly born.

Yes, I was promised to you in marriage,
but what will you gain by hauling me to court?
The judge may rule the contract stands,
but your house won’t be my prison,
your noble house
isn’t strong enough for that.

You gnaw your way through my home’s thick walls,
like a rat. What fine teeth you have,
surely you come of good stock!
Any rodent would be proud.

What will you gain, hauling me to court?
I follow the bailiff there, I must,
but when I leave, it won't be to follow you.


The Book of Songs 16: That Pear Tree

 The Earl of Shao was half-brother to King Wu who established of the Jo dynasty (1122-256 BC).

  

That pear tree gives a nice dark shade;
don't clip its twigs, don't prune its boughs,
for under it the Earl of Shao
once camped.

That pear tree gives a nice dark shade;
don't trim or clip or break a branch,
for under it the Earl of Shao
once rested.

That pear tree gives a nice dark shade;
don't trim, don’t even bend its branches,
remember how it cheered
the Earl of Shao.

The Book of Songs 15: Reverent Girl

Off to cull herbs
on the sunny hillside stream-bank,
to gather savory plants,
where the water rushes flooding down.

Off she goes homewards,
carrying her gatherings
tied, stacked in basket
bundled in box;
she puts them to boil,
in kettles, places her cullings in pots.

She goes to open
the cupboard-like ancestor shrine,
to open its doors
like a little window’s shutters,

she goes to pour for the ancestors
an offering of the new-made soup.
Who raises the bowl and places it rightly?
This diligent, excellent,
reverent girl!

The Book of Songs 14: Chirp, Go the Grasshoppers

 Chirp chirp, go the grasshoppers; 
look how many, how they jump!
I haven't seen my man today,
my heart is sad, sad.
But if I just see him, just meet him by chance,
my heart is tame and pleased.

I climb the sunlit south side of the hill,
culling herbs, I haven't seen him yet,
my heart is doubting, sad.
But if I just see him, just meet him by chance,
my heart becomes glad.

Climbing the sunny side of this hill,
culling herbs, I haven't seen him yet,
my heart is baffled, hurt.
But if I just see him, just meet him by chance,
my heart's at peace.

The Book of Songs 13: She Goes to Gather Asters

She goes to gather asters
to the pond, to the little isles in it,
gathers the starry white flowers
in the service of the duke.

She goes to gather asters
that grow along the hillside streams,
gathers the starry white flowers
for the palace of the duke.

Look at the splendid turban she wears
to the duke's, morning and eve,
see the cloth of her head-dress flow
behind her like a banner
as she comes and goes.

The Book of Songs 12: Though the Magpie Builds the Nest

Though the magpie builds the nest,
it’s the cuckoo lays her eggs there;
the humble magpie’s glad to hatch
the cuckoo’s lordly brood.
There's a girl going off to be married,
many a pair of horses
pull her coach, prancing, glad
to serve the noble maid.

Though the magpie builds the nest,
the cuckoo’s got plans for it;
the humble magpie's glad to raise
the blue-blood cuckoo’s chicks.
There's a girl going off to be married,
many a pair of horses
escort her, prancing, glad to be
beside so noble a maid.

Though the magpie builds the nest,
little cuckoos fill it;
the humble magpie’s glad to feed
the cuckoo's highborn kin.
There’s a girl going off to be married,
many a pair of horses
draw her coach, prancing, glad
to be a part of the wedding parade.

The Book of Songs 11: The Unicorn

 Startled, the unicorn gallops,
the sons of the duke hear its hooves.
They follow fast.
After it, the unicorn!
Oh, the quick beast!

The hunted unicorn tosses its head,
facing the sons of the duke.
The duke’s whole family’s gallant.
After it, the unicorn!
Oh, the noble beast!

The unicorn’s at bay,
brandishes its horn,
facing the sons of the duke,
sons of a numerous, warlike clan.
After it, the unicorn!
Oh, the brave beast!

The Book of Songs 9: The Han’s Too Broad

There's a tree that grows to the south of here,
too tall to grant any shadow
to a man who leans against it to rest.
There’s a river that flows just south of here,
the Han: the girls who bathe in it
are pretty fishes hard to catch.

The river Han’s too broad
to even consider swimming across,
and the Jang river’s long, you can’t reach its end
with a raft or even with a thought.

We stack, stack high the new-cut fuel,
lop the rough logs free of branches;
the noble lady’s coming to be married,
we'll give her horses grain when she arrives.

The river Han’s too broad
to even consider swimming across,
and the Jang river’s long, you can’t reach its end
with a raft or even with a thought.

We stack, stack high the new-cut fuel,
shave the rough logs free of leaf and twig;
the noble lady’s coming to be married,
we'll give her ponies grain when she arrives.

The river Han’s too broad
to even consider swimming across,
and the Jang river’s long, you can’t reach its end
with a raft or even with a thought.

The Book of Songs 8: Picking Plantains

Picking the plantains, pick pick pick,
garner ’em, gather ’em up, O,
gather ’em, get ’em all, O!

Picking the plantains, pick pick pick,
tug ’em down, take ’em down, O,
pick ’em down, pluck ’em down all, O!

Picking the plantains, pick pick pick,
fill your apron full, O,
bundle ’em, bear ’em all home, O!

Jacob Rabinowitz' translation of Du Fu's first book of poems,
A House of Visiting Cards
is now available from Amazon,