The following two poems by the Chinese poet Li Ho (791-817) are taken from ‘Poems of the Late T’ang’, a wonderful collection of translations by A.C.Graham. Not knowing Chinese myself, I cannot judge how much may be lost from the originals, but one thing that shines out is their vivid, lyrical joy in natural phenomena, that reminds me somewhat of early Celtic nature poetry – no question of influence of course, just spiritual coincidence.
The Northern Cold
The sky glows one side black, three sides purple.
The Yellow River’s ice closes, fish and dragons die.
Bark three inches thick cracks across the grain.
Carts of a hundred piculs mount the river’s water.
Flowers of frost on the grass are big as coins,
Brandished swords will not pierce the foggy sky,
Crashing ice flies in the swirling seas,
And cascades hang noiseless in the mountains, rainbows of jade.
On and on for ever
The white glare recedes to the western hills,
High in the distance sapphire blossoms rise.
Where shall there be an end of old and new?
A thousand years have whirled away in the wind.
The sands of the ocean change to stone,
Fishes puff bubbles at the bridge of Ch’in,
The empty stream shines on into the distance.
The bronze pillars melt away with the years.
Li Ho (tr. A.C.Graham)