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For the interview with Tony in Winter 2000

For more of Tony's translations from the Chinese

Poetry selection from Readymades by Tony Barnstone in Fall 2001.

BAO ZHAO (c. 414-466)


Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

Bao Zhao was born in Donghai (modern Changshu, Jiangsu province) to a family of poor gentry. Though he didn't have access to a high official career, he gained patrons due to his literary talents, held a post as a magistrate, and was murdered while in military service to the prince of Linhai by mutinous soldiers. He is considered to be the most important poet writing in the yuehfu form in the Six Dynasties Period, and his poems were influential in the Tang dynasty, particularly affecting Li Bai and Du Fu. His “Rhyme-prose on the Desolate City” is one of his most famous works; in it he meditates on the ruined city of Guangling (rhyme-prose, or fu, is a form in which a prose introduction and prose interludes alternate with verse passages of various line lengths, often concluding with an envoy or reprise summarizing what has gone before). The city lay in ruins after the Guangling revolt of 459 in which a feudal lord based in Guangling raised a rebellion but found his armies crushed, the city leveled and over three thousand inhabitants massacred. Bao Zhao visited the city soon afterwards and wrote about it.


From Variations on "The Weary Road"

Poem 5.

Don't you see how grass on the riverbank
in winter withers and dies, yet in spring floods the road?
Don't you see how the sun above the walls
evaporates to nothing at dusk
yet tomorrow at dawn is reborn?
But how can we achieve that?
When dead we're dead forever, down in Yellow Springs.
Life has lavish bitterness, is stingy with joy,
and only the young are filled with endless zeal.
So let's just meet whenever we can
and always keep wine-money ready by our beds.
Who cares for rank and fame inscribed on bamboo and silk?
Life, death, acclaim, obscurity–leave them to heaven.


Poem 6.

Facing the table I have no appetite,
draw my sword and hack at a pillar. Then I sigh long.
Life in this world is so brief.
How can I take small steps with drooping wings?
No, I'll give up my official position
and return home to relax.
I said goodbye to my family just this morning,
and in the evening I'm already back.
I play with my son by the bed,
and watch my wife working the loom.
Since ancient times sages have been poor and humble,
especially when like me they are shut out and speak too much.


On the Departure of Official Fu

You—a light swan goose, playing by a riverside,
me—an isolated wild goose nesting on a shoal.
A chance meeting brought us close,
we cannot stop missing each other.
As wind and rains travel east or west
our separation is instantly thousands of miles.
Recalling the time when we nested there,
my heart is filled with your face and voice.
The setting sun makes the river and shoals cold,
sad clouds wrap up the sky.
My wings are too short to soar—
I can only circle around in the mist.