Monday, May 11, 2020

Po Chü-i

The older I get the more I need to read poems by very ancient, and quite dead poets of earlier centuries. Po Chü-i is a Chinese poet who lived from 772-846.

There's great comfort of reading the thoughts of another person, from a great distance in time, and how they connect now. Being human hasn't changed. In this poem about the dreaming and waking world, Po Chu-i reflects on how those two worlds  are both entwined and separate, and how the dream spaces allow him to move as he ages. Po Chü-i  had a long and successful career both as a government official and as a poet, and these two careers seem to have come in conflict with each other at certain points in his life, which is interesting to think about as well as I read this poem.

A Dream of Mountaineering

At night, in my dream, I stoutly climbed a mountain,
Going out alone with my staff of holly-wood.
A thousand crags, a hundred hundred valleys --
In my dream journey none were unexplored
And all the while my feet never grew tired
And my step was as stong as in my young days.
Can it be that when the mind travels backward
The body also returns to its old state?
And can it be, as between body and soul,
That the body may languish, which the soul is still strong?
Soul and body -- both are vanities;
Dreaming and waking -- both alike unreal.
In the day my feet are palsied and tottering;
In the night my steps go striding over the hills.
As day and night are divided in equal parts --
Between the two, I get as much as I lose.

Translated form the Chinese by Arthur Waley

No comments: