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Poetry Magnum Opus

A translation from 8th century Chinese


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風吹柳花滿店香, 吳姬壓酒喚客嘗;

金陵子弟來相送, 欲行不行各盡觴。

請君試問東流水, 別意與之誰短長?

Willow-blossom fragrance wafts into the shop

as a girl from Wu pours wine, calls on me to share

with brothers and friends who have come to see me off,

and as they drain their cups I say to each,

go now and ask the east-flowing river

if it flows any faster than our feelings?


Again, this is a very risky translation thanks to the enormous gullies and gaps between classical Chinese (well, 8th century AD) and modern English. The main emotion that comes through quite clearly in spite of the conventions of the time is that the poet is deeply attached to his companions and he's going to miss them terribly as he sets off on his travels.

Incidentally (where is my mind today?), the poem was written by Li Po/ Li Bai. Some information follows below:

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Fascinating for me, making me think. Stop that! The last two lines are enigmatic and can lead to so many ways of thinking and emotions. Perfect.

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I love T'ang poetry. It's a puzzle, usually, until one begins to intuit the ideograph relationships and so get into the head of a poet who's been dead more than a thousand years. I don't think this could be done with any Western language following the classical age of Greece and Rome. Interestingly, traditional Chinese and early Japanese poems are the local equivalent of our classical studies. Apart from the unique brilliance of 17th century Japanese haiku, the Chinese write the really good stuff. Don't tell anyone I said so: I still have to live in this country!

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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