by Tu Fu
Throughout Heaven and Earth, whatever lives
contends. Each place has its own way,
but we all struggle inchmeal, one with another,
tangling ourselves ever tighter in the snare.
Without aristocracy, what would the lowly
grieve for? And without wealth, what could
poverty lack? O, neighborhoods may take turns
mourning, but all time is one lone corpse.
Here, in Wu Gorge, I have lived three unkempt
years out like a fluttering candle, blessed that
after a lifetime growing content with failure,
I've forgotten how splendor and disgrace differ.
Chosen for court or grown old in some outland,
I need the same workaday rice. But here, my
house of woven bramble east of city walls, I can
pick healing herbs in shaded mountain valleys.
Searching out roots beneath frost and snow,
I wear my heart away without thinking of lush
branches and vines. It isn't discipline--
this quiet life apart has always been my joy.
They say a sage is taut as a bowstring and
a fool is bent hookwise. Who knows which
I am? Taut hookwise, warming my old back
here in the sun, I await woodcutters and herdsmen.
I sit on our south porch in deep night,
moonlight incandescent on my knees. Sudden
winds capsizing the vast river of stars,
sunlight clears the rooftops. Things wild
wake in herds and flocks. Well-rested,
they set out with their own kind. And I,
too, hurry my kids along to scratch out
our living with the same selfish industry.
Passersby are rare under these cold, year-
end skies. Days and months grow short.
Obsessed with the scramble for glory, we
people have made bedlam lice of ourselves.
Before three emperors hatched civilization,
people ate their fill and were content.
Someone started knitting ropes, and now we're
mired in the glue and varnish of government.
Sui, inventor of fire, was the mastermind.
The catastrophe continued with Tung's edifying
histories. Everyone knows that if you light
candles and lamps, moths gather in swarms.
Sent beyond the eight horizons, the spirit
finds nothing above or below but isolate
emptiness. Departure and return: all
one motion, one timeless way of absence.