Parting from Abbot Zan
- Poetry of Du Fu


- Last updated: 2024-02-24 22:46:36

Parting from Abbot Zan by Du Fu













English Translation

The hundred rivers flow east every day,

The traveller keeps on moving, without rest.

My life is one of bitterness and drift,

What time will they finally reach their end?

Abbot Zan, learned in Buddhist teaching,

Banished from the capital to here.

Still we're bothered by these earthly cares,

Reflected in our lean and haggard faces.

We stood one morning with willow twigs in hand;

The beans sprouted; then rain; then they ripened again.

The body floats along just like a cloud,

What limit can there be, to south or north?

I meet my old friend in a foreign region,

Newly happy, I write what's in my breast.

The sky is long, the fortified pass is cold,

At the year's end, hunger and chill pursue me.

The desert wind blows my travelling clothes,

I'm ready to leave and journey into the sunset.

The horse neighs, remembering its old stable,

Returning birds have all now folded their wings.

The places where we used to meet and part,

Thorns and brambles have quickly covered over.

We look at each other, both in years of decline;

Leaving or staying, we each must do our best.

This poem dates from 759.

The term which Du Fu uses for Buddhist means literally "door of release". The willow twigs may be those broken in a ceremony of parting, while the sprouting beans show that two years have passed since the two last met.

Why Chinese poems is so special?
The most distinctive features of Chinese poetry are: concision- many poems are only four lines, and few are much longer than eight; ambiguity- number, tense and parts of speech are often undetermined, creating particularly rich interpretative possibilities; and structure- most poems follow quite strict formal patterns which have beauty in themselves as well as highlighting meaningful contrasts.
How to read a Chinese poem?
Like an English poem, but more so. Everything is there for a reason, so try to find that reason. Think about all the possible connotations, and be aware of the different possibilities of number and tense. Look for contrasts: within lines, between the lines of each couplet and between successive couplets. Above all, don't worry about what the poet meant- find your meaning.

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