rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,

Swans and Su Tung P'o

At a moment of clearing sky, while the moon was yet near meridian, I heard the sound of birds -- trumpeter swans, I think -- calling from the nearby air. I could distinguish at least four overlapping calls, and at times there were too many to separate. It must have been a large flock. Their voices boomed through the night as they flew northeast, heading for the reservoir, or perhaps one of the other lakes farther up the mountains; some place where fish might leap from dark water into moonlight, shedding drops to flash in the still, cold air. I strained to see the birds as they passed overhead, sounding very close, but the light was too dim to reveal even shadowy shapes.The sound of their beating wings joined their calls for a moment, then faded, and the calls themselves faded soon after. The patches of cloud then drew together once more, and I stood earthbound in the empty silence, feeling as I might had found that a page been torn from a book, and I would now never know what was on it.


by Su Tung P'o

My native land is up there,
Far away, near the head of
The river. Just a wandering
Bureaucrat, I have been sent
To the spot where the river
Enters the sea. I have heard
That here, ten feet deep in the
Salt marsh, you can find traces
Of the sand, still cold, which bubbled
Up in the Chong Ling spring high
In the rocky plateau by
The Southern Trail. I have come
Here, following the currents
And waves. Now, high in the tower,
I overlook the whole countryside.
South of the river, north of
The river, the blue mountains
Are without number. The beauty
Of the evening cannot
Overcome my sorrow. I
Reenter my rowboat to
Return. The monks, in their lonely
Monastery, sit watching
The setting sun. The gentle breeze,
Over ten thousand acres,
Makes a fine brocade of the
Waters. In the last rays of
The twilight the schools of fish
Flicker in the water.
At this moment, out of the
River, the material
Soul of the moon is born.
Later, after the second
Watch, after the moon has set,
The heavens are left in profound
Blackness. Then in the heart of
The river, the basket torches
Of the fishermen gleam. Their
Lights come and go, shining against
The sky, and frightening the birds
Asleep on the water. I
Try to sleep, but my heart is
Troubled, my mind is distracted.
Neither men nor ghosts come here.
What is it then? Has the spirit
Of the river shown me a
Vision to warn me? Since the
River mouth and the islands
Affect me so, I will not come
Again to this monastery.
I thank the spirits of the river,
But what good has it done?
Just as its waters cannot
Return to their source, so I can
Never return to my native land.

translated by Kenneth Rexroth


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