On the night of the 1st, I posted a rendition of “Cuicapeuhcayotl” or “Song at the Beginning,” a 16th-century Nahuatl song poem. In that post, note that the translator, Daniel G. Brinton, had written this:
As in medieval tales, he who had once been admitted to fairyland, could nevermore conquer his longing to return thither, so the poet longs for some other condition of existence where the divine spirit of song may forever lift him above the trials and the littleness of this earthly life.
Here is this same message of nature poetry from L. Cranmer-Byng (1872-1945) about Ssu-K’ung T’u:
And Nature, ever prodigal to her lovers, repays their favours in full measure. To this old artist-lover she grants no petty details, no chance revelations of this or that sweetness and quality but her whole pure self. Yet such a gift is illimitable; he may only win from secret to secret and die unsatisfied.
The first ten Ssu-K’ung T’u poems below are revisions of Cranmer-Byng’s translations found here: The Free Online Library: Lute of Jade: Ssu-K’ung T’u. The thematic and symbolic similarities between the ancient Nahuatl poetry and Ssu-K’ung T’u’s are striking.
For the purpose of this post, I am taking the formal rhymes and inversions out of Cranmer-Byng’s translations, and doing the consequential word-choice consideration. Below, after my ten renditions, are the likely superior and less corrupted versions by Cranmer-Byng.
A lovely maiden roaming through the wild
and dark valley culls lilies and blue lotus
from the glittering water.
The wind sighs though haze into the peach trees
laden with leaves and willows waving shadows down
Enchanted with passion I follow and hear
the springtime refrain that what was old
is young again.
. . .
Life in Colors
wanting to stay in
that rainbow brilliance
that blue by
an unfathomed sea
feminine shades blooming
parrots flown in
from a greener spring
by the terrace line
the vagabond down
from black tea hills
rose light off a full
cup of wine
to live where this extends
far and away
with no dead
a spring song clear
from star to star
. . .
I revel in flowers and pay no landlord.
Like a random molecule,
I abide in the ether,
the world my place to dream.
I am mighty, and survey my domain
from the ocean top
where the winds spread to wide
the universe at my side.
The sun, moon, and stars before me
I hear the phoenix’ song behind.
Each morning I lash dragons
and soak my feet in Fusang.
. . .
The lithe pine grove and mountain stream
come together in the valley far below–
black-winged junks on a dreamy sea reaching to
the powder blue sky over snow caps.
Fairer, smoother than jade, gleaming within
the dark red wood, I follow her.
She lingers, then becomes the bird afraid of
pirate wings, and seeks the haven hollow.
Hazy, and beyond a day’s memories, I fly
past this and into a land of clouds
as though, before the falling gold of autumn,
before the moonglow flooding the sky.
. . .
It dwells in the quiet, in what is
on hills and in fields.
Lapped by tideless harmonies,
with the lonely crane.
The silk skirt fluttering in a spring breeze,
from the wind on a flute–
feigning surrender when met, alluring
a shifting fantasy, it is gone.
. . .
A Poet’s View
The glow of April from wine, a chance rain
on a thatched roof,
white clouds in a clearing sky, flits of wings
deep in the trees,
from a green pillowed bower where tall bamboos
cast the shade,
the scholar views a flash torrent, the foam
it brings to land,
and the fallen leaves around his dream. Calm as
the chrysanthemum’s star,
he reads the book that has no cover, and notes
the splendor of the season.
. . .
A gale ruffles the stream,
giants crack in the forest–
my thoughts are black and bitter,
for summer cannot return.
One hundred years glide–water
eroding both rich and poor to
ashen cold. Hope for peace recedes
daily, and so goes consolation.
Undaunted, a soldier draws his sword–
into endless pain and tears.
Winds gust, leaves flutter down,
and rain drips through the old thatch roof.
. . .
poverty and wealth
states of mind
kings aging in
youth abiding forever
a fog hanging at
along the puce bough
under a moon-swept sky
roses girdling a hut
a painted bridge
half-seen in shadows
of the poor
wine of spring
vintage of the wise
. . .
A hut shadowed green among firs,
a sun sloping in amber air,
walking alone I bare my head
as a far thrush stirs the quiet.
No wild geese are flocking and she–ah!
–she is far away.
Yet all my thoughts
hold her in gold of hours gone by.
The moon-bathed islands pale, the clouds
scarcely dim the water’s sheen.
Sweet words falter, to and fro, though
this great river rolls between.
. . .
A water wheel,
a pearl rolling–
the fool sees
the earth spinning
to an end on a sturdy
pole of sky.
When we blend into one,
beyond the bounds
of thoughts and dreams,
we are satellites
circling the void
in our thousand-year orbits
and behold a key.
L. Cranmer-Byng’s translations from The Free Online Library: Lute of Jade: Ssu-K’ung T’u.
Return of Spring
A lovely maiden, roaming
The wild dark valley through,
Culls from the shining waters
Lilies and lotus blue.
With leaves the peach-trees are laden,
The wind sighs through the haze,
And the willows wave their shadows
Down the oriole-haunted ways.
As, passion-tranced, I follow,
I hear the old refrain
Of Spring’s eternal story,
That was old and is young again.
. . .
The Colour of Life
Would that we might for ever stay
The rainbow glories of the world,
The blue of the unfathomed sea,
The rare azalea late unfurled,
The parrot of a greener spring,
The willows and the terrace line,
The stranger from the night-steeped hills,
The roselit brimming cup of wine.
Oh for a life that stretched afar,
Where no dead dust of books were rife,
Where spring sang clear from star to star;
Alas! what hope for such a life?
. . .
I revel in flowers without let,
An atom at random in space;
My soul dwells in regions ethereal,
And the world is my dreaming-place.
As the tops of the ocean I tower,
As the winds of the air spreading wide,
I am ‘stablished in might and dominion and power,
With the universe ranged at my side.
Before me the sun, moon, and stars,
Behind me the phoenix doth clang;
In the morning I lash my leviathans,
And I bathe my feet in Fusang.
. . .
Fair is the pine grove and the mountain stream
That gathers to the valley far below,
The black-winged junks on the dim sea reach, adream,
The pale blue firmament o’er banks of snow.
And her, more fair, more supple smooth than jade,
Gleaming among the dark red woods I follow:
Now lingering, now as a bird afraid
Of pirate wings she seeks the haven hollow.
Vague, and beyond the daylight of recall,
Into the cloudland past my spirit flies,
As though before the gold of autumn’s fall,
Before the glow of the moon-flooded skies.
. . .
It dwells in the quiet silence,
Unseen upon hill and plain,
‘Tis lapped by the tideless harmonies,
It soars with the lonely crane.
As the springtime breeze whose flutter
The silken skirts hath blown,
As the wind-drawn note of the bamboo flute
Whose charm we would make our own,–
Chance-met, it seems to surrender;
Sought, and it lures us on;
Ever shifting in form and fantasy,
It eludes us, and is gone.
. . .
The Poet’s Vision
Wine that recalls the glow of spring,
Upon the thatch a sudden shower,
A gentle scholar in the bower,
Where tall bamboos their shadows fling,
White clouds in heavens newly clear,
And wandering wings through depths of trees,
Then pillowed in green shade, he sees
A torrent foaming to the mere;
Around his dreams the dead leaves fall;
Calm as the starred chrysanthemum,
He notes the season glories come,
And reads the books that never pall.
. . .
A gale goes ruffling down the stream,
The giants of the forest crack;
My thoughts are bitter–black as death–
For she, my summer, comes not back.
A hundred years like water glide,
Riches and rank are ashen cold,
Daily the dream of peace recedes:
By whom shall Sorrow be consoled?
The soldier, dauntless, draws his sword,
And there are tears and endless pain;
The winds arise, leaves flutter down,
And through the old thatch drips the rain.
. . .
If rank and wealth within the mind abide,
Then gilded dust is all your yellow gold.
Kings in their fretted palaces grow old;
Youth dwells for ever at Contentment’s side.
A mist cloud hanging at the river’s brim,
Pink almond flowers along the purple bough,
A hut rose-girdled under moon-swept skies,
A painted bridge half-seen in shadows dim,–
These are the splendours of the poor, and thou,
O wine of spring, the vintage of the wise.
. . .
A hut green-shadowed among firs,–
A sun that slopes in amber air,–
Lone wandering, my head I bare,
While some far thrush the silence stirs.
No flocks of wild geese thither fly,
And she–ah! she is far away;
Yet all my thoughts behold her stay,
As in the golden hours gone by.
The clouds scarce dim the water’s sheen,
The moon-bathed islands wanly show,
And sweet words falter to and fro–
Though the great River rolls between.
. . .
Like a water-wheel awhirl,
Like the rolling of a pearl;
Yet these but illustrate,
To fools, the final state.
The earth’s great axis spinning on,
The never-resting pole of sky–
Let us resolve their Whence and Why,
And blend with all things into One;
Beyond the bounds of thought and dream,
Circling the vasty void as spheres
Whose orbits round a thousand years:
Behold the Key that fits my theme.
. . .