Thursday, January 12, 2017


A familiar poem of Li Bai/Li Po (701-62), in a different translation:

Sunlight on Incense-Burner kindles violet smoke.
Watching the distant falls hanging there, river

headwaters plummeting three thousand feet in flight
I see the Star River falling through nine heavens.

That's David Hinton. Here's his rendition of the longer poem of which the shorter poem is a sort of epitome.

Gazing at the Thatch-Hut Mountain Waterfall

Climbing west toward Incense-Burner Peak,
I look south and see a falls of water, a cascade

hanging there, three thousand feet high,
then seething dozens of miles down canyons.

Sudden as lightning breaking into flight,
its white rainbow of mystery appears. Afraid

at first the celestial Star River is falling,
splitting and dissolving into cloud heavens,

I look up into force churning in strength,
all power, the very workings of Change-Maker.

It keeps ocean winds blowing ceaselessly,
shines a mountain moon back into empty space,

empty space it tumbles and sprays through,
rinsing green cliffs clean on both sides,

sending pearls in flight scattering into mist
and whitewater seething down towering rock.

Here, after wandering among these renowned
mountains, the heart grows rich with idleness.

Why talk of the cleansing elixirs of immortality?
Here, the world's dust rinsed from my face,

I'll stay close to what I've always loved ,
content to leave that peopled world forever.

David Hinton
Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China
(New York: New Direction, 2005), 76-77

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