Du Fu, “Remembering Li Bai on a Spring Day”


I know no poetry to equal his
his mind must be unique

freshness of Yu Xin
Bao Zhao’s delicacy

as I watch the trees leaf out
here, north of the Wei

he’s probably gazing at sunset
there, east of the Yangzi

when can we share
a pot of wine again

talk on and on about poetry
until it’s nearly daybreak?

Du Fu: A Life in Poetry was translated by David Young and published in late 2008. Last week, Knopf posted Young’s translation of “A Summer Outing,” while Poetry Daily posted two more poems: “An Autumn Storm and Our Thatched Roof” and “Rain on a Spring Night.”

(Here are several Du Fu poems, but I’m afraid I don’t know who translated them. It certainly wasn’t Young; where Young’s “Autumn Thoughts” begins “Dew turns to jade-white ice / that scars and wilts the maple trees,” for example, the first line of this rendition of “Autumn Meditations” is “Jade dew withers and wounds the groves of maple trees.” I prefer the Young, myself.)

Li Bai was a contemporary of Du Fu, and the two are pretty much to Chinese poetry what Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were to mid-20th-century American baseball, if Williams and DiMaggio had only ever met twice in their lifetimes. Du Fu wrote at least a dozen poems we know of about how great Li Bai was; only one of Li Bai’s poems about Du Fu survives.

16 April 2009 | poetry |