Love, Wine & Nature in the Ever-Living China

With the Coronavirus kicking in the global lock-down, its time for everyone to reflect & maybe look at projects that have been lying gathering dust for a while. In my case its the compilation of the very best of a certain William Dolby’s translations of ancient Chinese poetry. A brilliant, extremely prolofic man, Dolby has unfortunately passed away, leaving his son as the custodian of his works. Last year I contacted said son, Ieuan, who very kindly sent me a few books – about 8 in total.

I am now in the process of diving into those 8 books & digging out the nuggets, all of which I am collating under the umbrella term, LOVE, WINE & NATURE IN THE EVER-LIVING CHINA. The idea is to provide a poetic hotline to a most wonderful time of humanity – millennia before the technocracies in which we dwell. I hope the readers of Mumble Words will delight as much as I have in Dolby’s genius – I will be changing the word of two here & there, & scribble out stanzas as well, leading to a final result which I believe will benefit the world a great deal.

The first selection of poems are being made from the ‘SHI-CHING,‘ (tr. songs-lyric-warp/weave), China’s earliest poetry anthology. It was compiled c.500 BC in the age of Confucious, who many scholars believe composed new music for the songs. Drawn from all the regions of ancient China, the oldest material goes back to the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC) & are a mixture of court songs, war songs, & of course romantic numbers. The names under the titles, by the way, are the region from where the song was drawn.


CURLY EARS
Chou South

Cull & cull the Curly Ears – cerastium,
Don’t fill my lopsided shallow-fronted basket;
Sighing for the one I’m yearning for in my breast,
I put it aside, leave it on the Chou Road.

I go up into the rock-strewn hills,
Till my horses are ill with exhaustion;
For a while I pour wine from the rhinoceros-horn jar,
To stop myself from grieving on & on.

I go up onto the rocky earth-hill summit,
Till my horses are sick with the effort;
My charioteer is poorly now,
&, oh, how I’m sighing now.


GATHERING THE WHITE DAISIES
Shao South

Where is she going to gather the fecund white daisy?
She’s going to the pools & the islets;
Where is she going to employ them?
In the sacrificial services of her lord.

Where is she going to gather the fecund white daisy?
She’s going in among the mountain brooks’
Where is she going to employ them?
In the palace of her lord.

She has an abundance of hair-jewels,
In the pre-dawn she’s with her lord;
She has such a luxuriance of hair-jewels,
As she turns back & goes home.


THE WIND
Pei

There’s wind, & its violent, moreover,
When you look around at me, you smile,
Your jokes are wild & your laughter scorching,
& deep in my heart I lament over that!

There’s wind & its flying dusrt filling the air, moreover,
Its a favour when you agree to come to me!
If you don’t come & go with me,
I long for you endlessly.

There’s wind, & its overcast, moreover,
No sun, & overcast.
When I go to bed, I stay awake, don’t sleep,
Longing for you, I keep on sneezing.

The cloud-covered skies are dark overcast,
The thunder rumbles loud.


LIFE-GIVING EASTERN BREEZE
Pei

The life-giving eastern breeze gently shushes,
Bringing overcast skies & rain;
I strove to be your soul-mate,
You shouldn’t have got angry with me.
When you pick radishes & turnips,
Don’t you include their roots!
If you hadn’t gone against the love between us,
I’d have died together with you at the same time as you die.

I travel the road slowly tarrying,
Deep inside my heart unwilling;
Not a long way, indeed a short onw,
You only saw me off to the threshold of your door!
Who says that the sow-thistle is bitter!
Its as sweet as shepherd’s purse;
You rejoice in your new bride,
As if she were your elder or younger brother!

Alas you didn’t have affection for me,
But on the contrary treated me as an enemy;
Since you warded off my goodwill,
What I was selling wouldn’t sell.
In the old days, I lived in nervousness & at the end of my resources
When you tumbl’d into calamity;
When we’d survived that & flourish’d,
You liken’d me to poison.

I had some fine dried vegetables in store,
Which, to be sure, were to guard against the winter,
You rejoice in your new bride,
& used me to gaurd against hard times.
You were rough, you were wildly enraged,
& you had me hard toil;
You didn’t recall the old days,
When you & I were in love!


I BEG YOU, SIR SECOND SON (Cheng)

I beg you, Sir Second Son, oh,
Don’t jump over into our village,
Don’t snap the wolf-berry shrubs we’ve planted;
How would I dare to grudge them! –
But it’s out of awed respect for my father & mother!
You’re worth my yearning, Sir Second Son,
But my father & mother’s words
Are also deserving of respect.

I beg you, Sir Second Son, oh,
Don’t jump over our wall,
Don’t snap the mulberry-trees we’ve planted;
How would I dare to grudge them! –
But it’s out of awed respect for my elder brothers!
You’re worth my yearning, Sir Second Son,
But my elder brothers’ words
Are also deserving of respect.

I beg you, Sir Second Son, oh,
Don’t jump over into our village,
Don’t snap the sandalwood-trees we’ve planted;
How would I dare to grudge them! –
But I’m afraid of people’s talking a lot!
You’re worth my yearning, Sir Second Son,
But people’s talking a lot
Are also deserving of respect.


SHU’S OUT HUNTING (Cheng)

Shu’s out hunting,
& in our lane there’s no man left
No, of course there are some men left,
Just that none of them’s up to Shu,
So truly handsome & gentle.

Shu’s out chasing with the hounds,
& in our lane there’s no man drinking wine.
No, of course there are some men drinking wine!
Just that none of them’s up to Shu,
So truly handsome & good.

Shu’s gone off into the wild countryside,
& in our lane there’s no man breaking-in horses.
No, of course there are some men breaking-in horses,
Just that none of them’s up to Shu,
So truly handsome & warrior-like.


PUPPY-WILY LAD (Cheng)

Yon puppy-wily lad,
Won’t talk with me.
All your fault I can’t tough my food

Yon puppy-wily lad,
Won’t sup with me.
All your fault, I can’t sleep a wink.


LIFTING HER SKIRTS (Cheng)

If you’ll yearn for me with kindly love,
I’ll lift my skirts & wade even the River Chen to you.
And if you won’t love me,
Do you think there’s none other will –
Oh silliest of fickle lads!

If you’ll yearn for me with kindly love,
I’ll lift my skirts & wade even the River Wei to you.
And if you won’t love me,
Do you think there’s no other gentleman will –
Oh silliest of fickle lads!


WOMAN SAYS, “COCKS ARE CROWING” (Cheng)

Knight says, “It’s still only pre-dawn gloaming.”;
“Get up & look at the knight”, she says,
“The Morning Star, Venus, is still somewhat freshly shining,” he says
“They’re about to flap their wings, about to glide the air,
Shoot the ducks & wild-geese with line-attached arrow!” she says.

“If you shoot & hit them with line-attached arrow,” she says,
“I’ll prepare them nicely for you,
& when I’ve prepar’d them nicely, we’ll drink some wine.
I’ll be with you through old age, the two of us together,
a dulcimer & zither being played together,
Everything without exception will be tranquil & fine.”


GOING OUT THROUGH THE EAST GATE (Cheng)

Going out through the East Gate,
Saw there were girls as many as the clouds;
But even though there were as many as the clouds,
They weren’t what my longings were dwelling on.
Plain white-silk dress & pale grey maiden’s head-cloth, –
She’ll make me merry for the while.

Going out through the city-gate terrace watch-tower of the curved city-wall,
Saw there were girls as many as the bulrush flowers;
But even though there were as many as the bulrush flowers,
They weren’t what my longings were dwelling on.
Plain white-silk dress & madder-dyed maiden’s cloth, –
I can divert myself with her for the while.


HUNTING DOGS
Ch’i

His hunting dogs’ bells jingle
He himself is handsome & moreover gentle

His hunting dogs have double rings,
He himself is handsome & moreover has good-looking hair;

His hunting dogs have big doubke chains,
He himself is handsome & moreover strong in ability


RIVER FEN STAGNATED INTO MARSH
Wei

Where yon River Fen has stagnated into swamp
Oh, I pick the flaxen plant
That young gentleman there is immearsurably handsome
Immeasurably handsome
Quite different from the minister’s bastard-sons in charge of the duke’s carriages

In one area by yon River Fen,
Oh, I pick the mulberry-leaves.
That young gentleman there is as handsome as amethyst
He’s as handsome as amethyst
Quite different from the men in charge of the duke’s war chariots


DAWN BREEZE FALCON
Ch’in

Swift-flying is yon Dawn Breeze Falcon
& luxuriant is yon North Forest;
I haven’t met my young lord, my beau
And my troubl’d heart frets unable to forget him
What can I do? What can I do?
You’re truly so very forgetful of me.

On the mountain there are lush-bushy ioaks
In the damp hollow there are mottl’d camphor trees,
I haven’t yet met my young lord, my beau,
& my troubl’d heart is joyless.
What can I do? What can I do?
You’re truly so very forgetful of me.

On the mountain there are lush-bushy Prunus-Japanica trees
In the damp hollow there are sui-trees
I haven’t yet met my young lord, my beau,
& my troubl’d heart is as if drunk
What can I do? What can I do?
You’re truly so very forgetful of me.


WHITE ELMS AT THE EAST GATE
Ch’en

White elms at the East Gate
Oaks upon hill-on-hill Hill
The young gentlemen of the Tzu-chung clan,
Whirl around in dance at the foot of the helm

They’re choosing a fine morning;
On the plain of the southern region;
They’re not twisting their hemp thread,
They’re whirling in dance in the market-place

They’re going off on a fine morning,
Ah, they stride along together;
“We regard you as high-mallow flowers,”
They give us gifts of a fistful of pepper-plants


WILLOW BY THE EAST GATE
Ch’en

The willow by the east gate
Its leaves are so sleek & lush
We fixed the date for dusk
But now the dawn star, Venus, is dazzling shimmering

The willow by the east gate
Its leaves are sio luxuriant
We fixed a date for dusk
But now the dawn star, Venus, is sparkling splendid


SLOPING SIDE OF THE MARSH EMBANKMENT
Ch’en

By the sloping side of that marsh’s embankment
There are cattails & lotus-plants;
There’s a certain handsome man,
In my grief what can I do about him?
Waking or sleeping abed, I can’t do anything about it,
My sobs & snivel pour down like heavy rain

By the sloping side of that marsh’s embankment
There are cattails & fragrant thoroughworts;
There’s a certain handsome man,
Mighty big & moreover lissome fair

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