Friday, January 26, 2007

Rihaku (Li Po / Li Bai), "Exile's Letter", translated by Ezra Pound

To So-Kin of Rakuyo, ancient friend, Chancellor of Gen.
Now I remember that you built me a special tavern
By the south side of the bridge at Ten-Shin.
With yellow gold and white jewels, we paid for songs and laughter
And we were drunk for month on month, forgetting the kinds and princes.
Intelligent men came drifting in from the sea and from the west border,
And with them, and with you especially
There was nothing at cross purpose,
And they made nothing of sea-crossing or of mountain-crossing,
If only they could be of that fellowship,
And we all spoke out our hearts and minds, and without regret.
And then I was sent off to South Wei,
smothered in laurel groves,
And you to the north of Raku-hoku,
till we had nothing but thoughts and memories in common.
And then, when separation had come to its worst,
We met, and travelled into Sen-Go,
through all the thirty-six folds of the turning and twisting waters,
Into a valley of the thousand bright flowers,
That was the first valley;
And into ten thousand alleys full of voices and pine-winds.
And with silver harness and reins of gold,
Out came the East of Kan foreman and his company.
And there came also the 'True man' of Shi-yo to meet me,
Playing on a jewelled mouth-organ.
In the storied houses of San-Ko they gave us more Sennin music,
Many instruments, like the sound of young phoenix broods.
The foreman of Kan Chu, drunk, danced
because his long sleeves wouldn't keep still
With that music playing,
And I, wrapped in brocade, went to sleep with my head on his lap,
And my spirit so high it was all over the heavens,
And before the end of the day we were scattered like stars, or rain.
I had to be off to So, far away over the waters,
You back to your river-bridge.
And your father, who was rave as a leopard,
Was governor in Hei-Shu, and put down the barbarian rabble.
And one May he had you send for me,
despite the long distance.
And what with broken wheels and so on, I won't say it wasn't hard going,
Over roads twisted like sheep's guts.
And I was still going, late in the year,
in the cutting wind from the North,
And thinking how little you cared for the cost,
and you caring enough to pay it.
And what a reception:
Red jade cups, food well set on a blue jewelled table,
And I was drunk, and had no thought of returning.
And you would walk out with me to the western corner of the castle,
To the dynastic temple, with water about it clear as blue jade,
With boats floating, and the sound of mouth-organs and drums,
with ripples like dragon-scales, going glass green on the water,
Pleasure lasting, with courtezans, going and coming without hindrance,
With the willow flakes falling like snow,
and the vermilioned girls getting drunk about sunset,
And the water, a hundred feet deep, reflecting green eyebrows
—Eyebrows painted green are a fine sight in young moonlight,
Gracefully painted—
And the girls singing back at each other,
Dancing in transparent brocade,
And the wind lifting the song, and interrupting it,
Tossing it up under the clouds.
And all this comes to an end.
And is not again to be met with.
I went up to the court for examination,
Tried Layu's luck, offered the Choyo song,
And got no promotion,
and went back to the East Mountains
And once again, later, we met at the South bridgehead.
And then the crowd broke up, you went north to San palace,
And if you ask how I regret that parting:
It is like the flowers falling at Spring's end
Confused, whirled in a tangle.
What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,
There is no end of things in the heart.
I call in the boy,
Have him sit on his knees here
To seal this,
And send it a thousand miles, thinking.


From Cathay (1915)

It would perhaps be an oversight not to include a poem that is itself foreign to the language in this week on travel. Like venturing abroad, translation allows a glimpse into another land, culture, and poetics. Pound's translations from the Chinese are among his finest work, Chinese ideograms being a main inspiration for Pound's own imagism - an attempt to create poetry by the arrangement of images carefully sculpted in words, involving a structure that is more pictorial / juxtapositional than narrative. After all, while travel is in once sense a journey, it is also an experience of distances and an overlaying of cultures. While "Exile's Letter" does present a story, its emotional effect is largely a function of the imagery and scenes presented—the regret of parting is expressed "like the flowers falling at Spring's end / Confused, whirled in a tangle." In this week's earlier poems, it was typically foreign scenes that would incite certain feelings and reflections in the speaker; here, however, it is more that the imagery and travel are invoked to express the speaker's feelings and fortunes. The exile that carries through the poem is not the distance from home, but distance from a friend. One need not travel the world to understand such a poem.

(More about Ezra Pound:

1 comment:

verd said...

In Brian Enos composition 'Spider and I. he refers to 'a world without sound' and sending 'thoughts a thousand miles away'
maybe inflienced here as was peter carey writing my Life as A Fake,
any thouhgts on this lomg bow i have just drawn,