- Reply to the Loneliness of a Poet
Perhaps our hearts
will have no reader
Perhaps we took the wrong road
and so we end up lost
Perhaps we light one lantern after another
storms blow them out one by one
Perhaps we burn our life candle against the dark
but no fire warms the body
Perhaps once we're out of tears
the land will be fertilized
Perhaps while we praise the sun
we are also sung by the sun
Perhaps the heavier the monkey on our shoulders
the more we believe
Perhaps we can only protest others' suffering
silent to our own misfortune
because this call is irresistible
we have no other choice
– Shu Ting (Translated by Tony Barnstone and Newton Liu)
Writing about music is difficult. How many times have you read a well-written review of a concert or recording, and then still had no idea at all what to expect when hearing the music?
That’s why I find this excerpt from a Tang Dynasty poem so remarkable:
“The thick strings splattered like a rain shower,
the thin strings whispered privately like lovers,
splattering and whispering back and forth,
big pearls and small pearls dropping into a jade plate.
Smooth, the notes were skylarks chirping under flowers.
Uneven, the sound flowed like a spring under ice,
the spring water cold and strained, the strings congealing silence,
freezing to silence, till the sounds couldn’t pass, and were momentarily at rest.
Now some other hidden sorrow and dark regret arose
and at this moment silence was better than sound.
Suddenly a silver vase exploded and the water splashed out,
iron horse galloped through and swords and spears clashed.
When the tune stopped, she struck the heart of the instrument,
all four strings together, like a piece of silk tearing.
Silence then in the east boat and the west.
All I could see in the river’s heart was the autumn moon, so pale.”
From “Song of the Lute” by Bai Juyi (772-846)
Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping
Mocking Myself for Planting Trees
At seventy I still plant trees,
but don’t take me for an idiot.
Though death has always been inevitable,
I don’t know the date!
– Qing dynasty poet Yuan Mei (1716-1798)