Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Cheng Pan-ch'iao's Tao-ch'ing Songs

The poet, painter, critic and calligrapher Cheng Hsieh (1693-1765), or as he was commonly known Cheng Pan-ch'iao lived in imperial China. A comprehensive and solid introduction to the work of Cheng, his life and his prediliction for deep and gentle poetry is 'Cheng Pan-ch'iao' by Karl-Heinz Pohl (Steyler Verlag / Monumenta Serica Monograph Series - XXI). The 300-page book contains numerous footnotes and a large bibliography section - both useful for those wishing to check the facts or pursue the matter further.
From the chapter 'Ten Tao-ch'ing Songs' Poet-in-Residence is delighted to present for study a selection of five songs and an extract from Cheng Pan-ch'iao's prologue to them.

from Prologue

Maple-leaves, reed flowers, a visitor's boat -
River mist and waves make me sad.
Let's down one more cup of wine -
For yesterday's youths are today's silver heads.


The old fisher,
A rod in his hand,
Near the cliffs
At the side of the bay -
His boat drifts back and forth, unrestrained.
Seagulls dancing up and down like dots on the distant waves;
From the reed-grown banks the sighing wind soughs - a
cold day;
With high voice he begins a song by the light of the sinking
For an instant the glow quivers like gleaming gold over the
And when suddenly he lifts his head, the moon is rising over
the eastern mountains.


The old woodgatherer,
Chopping wood, alone,
Bundles blue-green pine
And carries light-green ash wood -
Nothing but wild grass across the autumnal mountains.
The once luxuriant tomb - forgotten and desolate,
Ancient monuments, a thousand feet tall, lie in the emerald
The stone horse is worn from whetting knives.
Why not spend that spare money on some wine?
Drunk he returns along the mountain trail.


The old monk
In his ancient temple,
Alone he burns incense,
Alone he sounds the bell -
Sunflowers and rye are presented as offerings.
The gate to the monastery hangs ajar, the lock is broken.
The light of the sinking sun lies somberly on the scattered
While autumn stars faintly twinkle through cracks in the
When it grows dark, he sits on his cushion to meditate;
Only the red embers under the teakettle glow in the dark of
the night.


The old Taoist,
His motley frock patched like paddy-fields,
On his back a gourd,
On his head a kerchief -
Shoes of straw and cotton socks to match.
He fixes zithers and sells herbal remedies,
Exorcises spirits and banishes demons.
White clouds and red leaves accompany him along the
mountain path.
I have heard that he built his hut at the edge of a
precipice -
Where should people seek him out?


The old scholar
In his plain house
Likes to talk about legendary emperors
And the ancient virtues -
Many a former pupil has passed the state exams.
In front of their doors, their retinue - proud and strong like
Flags on the street, waving like dragons -
But one morning their power is gone like a fleeting dream in
Is it not better to live humbly in a by-lane
And instruct ignorant children?

1 comment:

  1. enjoyed these memorable indeed thanks Gwilym


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