When young I couldn't bear the common taste;
I loved the mountains and the peaks.
Yet I fell into the world's net
and wasted thirteen years.
But trapped birds long for their old woods
and fish in the pool still need deep waters
so I'm breaking earth in the south field,
returning to the country to live simply,
with just a few acres
and a thatch roof over some rooms.
Elm and willow shade the back eaves,
rows of peach and plum trees by the front hall.
A distant village lost in haze,
smoke twining from neighbors' houses.
Dogs bark in far alleys,
a cock chuckles atop a mulberry tree.
No dust or clutter within my courtyard door,
just empty rooms and time to spare.
After all those years like a beast in a cage
I've come back to the soil again.
No social events in the fields,
no carriage wheels whir through these back roads.
Bright sun, but I close my cane door
and empty myself in my empty rooms.
Sometimes I meet the peasants
going here and there in palm-leaf raincoats,
but we speak of nothing
except how the crops are doing.
Each day my hemp and mulberries grow taller
and my land gets wider every day
but any day the frost or hail
could beat it flat as a field of weeds.
So long away from these mountains and lakes,
today I'm wild with pleasure in the fields.
Now nephews and nieces hold my hands
as we part brush and enter the wild ruin of a town.
We search through hills and gravemounds
and the lingering signs of ancient folk,
scattered wells and traces of their hearths,
rotten stumps of bamboo and mulberry groves.
I ask a man who is gathering wood here
"What happened to all these people?"
The woodsman turns to me and says
"They're dead, that's all, there's not one left!"
In thirty years, at court or market, all things change.
I know these are not empty words,
that we live among shadows and ghosts
and return at last to nothingness.
'The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry: From Ancient to Contemporary, The Full 3000-Year Tradition'
By Tony Barnstone (Editor), Chou Ping (Editor)
All lovers of Chinese literature will know how central a contribution the Barnstones, father and son, have made to the gradual Anglicization (or Americanization) of at least a small part of the poetic treasures now pouring out of the Middle Kingdom for the world to wake up to at last. This Anchor collection is a noble enterprise and a huge achievement, comparable in scope to earlier anthologies such as those compiled so magisterially by Cyril Birch, Burton Watson, Jonathan Chaves, Victor Mair and Stephen Owen. It is worth buying for the introduction alone, but the originality of the enterprise consists largely in the novelty of so many of the poems chosen. Of course any anthology that claims to include 'the Full 3000-Year Tradition' is guilty of massive over-exaggeration, since it is the nature of anthologies to be highly selective. And if, in your pursuit of the new and the unexpected you choose to leave out a lot of the 'old familiar faces', as Barnstone does, then perhaps the danger is that you may inadvertently give readers who are themselves new to Chinese poetry a slightly false picture of its most salient geographical features. He is a good enough translator at his best to do ample justice to many of those anthology 'plums' that most other anthologists consider indispensable. On the other hand, one can have too much of a good thing, and he may well be right to have sometimes wandered away from the well-trodden highway. A good guide is one who makes the tour idiosyncratic and personal, and Barnstone is certainly that. The overall quality of the poetry, considered as poetry IN ENGLISH, is pretty consistently high: perhaps not quite in the same class as Kenneth Rexroth, Sam Hamill, David Hinton or David Young, but still often bright, fresh and bubbling with energy. No library of Chinese literature in translation should be without this cornucopia of delights.