3 Poems After Tao Yuanming

by David Young

1. Spending the Day by the River Xie

New Yearís Day
and suddenly Iím sixty,

my life getting ready
to melt back where it came from
ó

thinking of that
stirs up my heart

makes me enjoy
this day Iím given

perfect weather
cloudless sky

we sit beside this river
that has so far to run

watching the bright mullet
move in the weak current

listen to calling gulls
that cross the quiet valley

look out across the marshes
that stretch into the distance

gazing all the way to
Layered Wall Mountainó

maybe not so gorgeous as
the famous Kunlun peaks

but easily the most
majestic thing in sight.

I brought a jar of wine
to entertain my friendsó

raising our filled beakers
we drink each otherís health

donít know if we will ever
all get back together

after a few cups
all my thoughts sail loose

all my millennial worries
drop off and float away

I find my full contentment
in this very moment

all those dark tomorrows
lost to view.

2. Elegy for Me

You canít have life
without death too

maybe we die youngó
thatís not necessarily wrong

last night we were human beings,
today we belong to the ghost-lists

the soul boils off, leaves behind
a dried body in a wooden coffin

my children blubberó
they want their father!

my friends water
my corpse with tears

I donít know a thing!
I'm way past good or evil

a thousand years go by
and shameís the same as glory!

I look back across my life
and wish I had drunk more wine!

The wine I didnít drink
I won't have now

itís way too late, too lateó
theyíre crying by my deathbed

what my eyes see is darkness
darkness and then more darkness   

I slept in gorgeous halls
now I lie in wilderness

once through this gate
there is no coming back.

The grass and weeds grow tall
around my tomb

the wind goes moaning past
among the flashing poplars

autumn comes, white frost
gleams in all directions

horses
rear and whinny

Iím here, in my underground room,
at least a thousand years

a thousand years
when day wonít dawn again

the cortege that brought me here
is already headed home
ó

some still weep,
but others start to sing

me? Iím earth
in the earth that has taken me in.

Back Home in the Country

1

Even when I was little
I didnít much care for the big world

I grew up in love with the hills,
came of age loving the mountains

somehow got snared and went away
and wasted thirty years.

A caged bird dreams of the forest,
a caught fish longs for water
ó

now Iím clearing this land by South Mountain
itís gardens and fields from now on.

I live on a couple of acres
in a house of eight or nine rooms

elms and willows shade my roof
peach and plum trees grow out front.

The village is off in the distant haze
smoke rising from the houses

dogs bark in the deep lanes
roosters crow from mulberry trees

Inside, itís quiet and clean
and I can be perfectly idle
ó

I used to feel like a prisoner
now I belong to my world.

 

2

The worldís crowds and the worldís doings
have nothing to do with this place

no one comes nosing around
this tiny country lane

the doors stay closed
the house is mostly empty

we peasants pass each other
along the ragged byways

sometimes we just nod
or speak about the crops

the mulberries, the hempó
I see mine getting taller

I worry about the frost
worry about the sleet

think about ending up
with a lot of useless brush.

 

3

Iíve planted beans at the foot of South Mountain
the weeds get in there and weaken the bean shoots

so Iím up early to clear my field
head home by moonlight, hoe on shoulder

the path is narrow, the grass is long,
my clothes are soaked with dew

why would I care about wet clothes
now that Iím part of the surroundings?