Hard Roads in Shu
- Poetry of Li Bai (Li Po)


- Last updated: 2024-04-23 22:06:44

Hard Roads in Shu by Li Bai (Li Po)























English Translation

Oh, but it is high and very dangerous!

Such travelling is harder than scaling the blue sky.

...Until two rulers of this region

Pushed their way through in the misty ages,

Forty-eight thousand years had passed

With nobody arriving across the Qin border.

And the Great White Mountain, westward, still has only a bird's path

Up to the summit of Emei Peak --

Which was broken once by an earthquake and there were brave men lost,

Just finishing the stone rungs of their ladder toward heaven.

...High, as on a tall flag, six dragons drive the sun,

While the river, far below, lashes its twisted course.

Such height would be hard going for even a yellow crane,

So pity the poor monkeys who have only paws to use.

The Mountain of Green Clay is formed of many circles-

Each hundred steps, we have to turn nine turns among its mound --

Panting, we brush Orion and pass the Well Star,

Then, holding our chests with our hands and sinking to the ground with a groan,

We wonder if this westward trail will never have an end.

The formidable path ahead grows darker, darker still,

With nothing heard but the call of birds hemmed in by the ancient forest,

Male birds smoothly wheeling, following the females;

And there come to us the melancholy voices of the cuckoos

Out on the empty mountain, under the lonely moon....

Such travelling is harder than scaling the blue sky.

Even to hear of it turns the cheek pale,

With the highest crag barely a foot below heaven.

Dry pines hang, head down, from the face of the cliffs,

And a thousand plunging cataracts outroar one another

And send through ten thousand valleys a thunder of spinning stones.

With all this danger upon danger,

Why do people come here who live at a safe distance?

...Though Dagger-Tower Pass be firm and grim,

And while one man guards it

Ten thousand cannot force it,

What if he be not loyal,

But a wolf toward his fellows?

...There are ravenous tigers to fear in the day

And venomous reptiles in the night

With their teeth and their fangs ready

To cut people down like hemp.

Though the City of Silk be delectable, I would rather turn home quickly.

Such travelling is harder than scaling the blue sky....

But I still face westward with a dreary moan.


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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