Du Fu: At Fajing Temple (From Chinese)

In autumn of 759, Du Fu resigned from his government post at Huazhou (east of Chang'an) during the An Lushan rebellion, fearing for his life, and headed west to Qinzhou (now Tianshui) in what is now Gansu province to stay with a nephew, taking his family with him. Afterward, he moved farther south to Tonggu and arrived in Chengdu (in what is now Sichuan province) at the end of the month. This poem was written during that journey.

Many have a habit of idealizing, nay idolizing, nature as something to long for. It's got to be good for you, the New-Ager thinks, 'cause its natural. Urbanization and industrialization encourage us to conceive of the "natural" world as a refuge from the "unnatural" hubbub of cities and such. Going on a hike is a pleasant way to "get back to the land." While there is no shortage of verse in the Chinese tradition portraying (or at least retroactively read by later Chinese scholars as portraying) nature in at-one-ment with humans, there is more to it. Often in medieval Chinese poetry, and especially in Du Fu, any desire to "get away from it all" is intermingled with a more realistic and pressing awareness that going out into the wilderness means not just being restfully alone, but also arrestingly lonely. The distinction between non-human Nature or 天 tiān and humanity or 人 rén (or as I prefer to put it "Numen and Human") is not so easily breached. Nature, especially for Du Fu, is a thing apart from humans, does not care about them, does not have the faculty of care at all, and is not even the instrument of a benevolent God. Du Fu saw solace in a temple, a bastion of humanity apart from the world, a human refuge from the human condition. Yet he, like Robert Frost, had "promises to keep."

At Fajing Temple
By Du Fu
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Running at knifepoint into a farther district,
I strove my strongest but now am gutted weak,
And as I veer through mountains, gashed in spirit,
An ancient temple shatters my grief on a peak.

Its cleaned green moss charms with a gentle glimmer.
The bamboo-sheathes are clustered, cold and bare.
The river maunders at the foot of the mountain.
Raindrops hang light from the pine trees through new air.

The clouds' sun-fissured cover leaks pure morning.
Primeval dawn shines, hides and shines once more.
Vermilion roof-tiles' glint sporadic welcome.
A different gleam tints every window and door.

Dreaming while hunched on my staff, I forgot my journey.
With high noon hot on me, I struggle awake.
The cuckoo beyond cries out to go go go,  

That temple's narrowing path I dare not take.

The Original:
(Medieval Chinese transcription thanks to a system developed by David Branner)

Han Characters 





Medieval Chinese 

pap3a kèing3a zì3d
dúo1 púo3c

syen3b ngwi3bx syeik3b the1 tsyou3b
mán3bx gáng3 tsyung3b lau1 khúo1
zyen3b syang3 sran2b gheing2a syem3
dzrou3b phè1 ngei2a zì3d kúo1

dzyan3b wan3by peik3b san3b dzèing3b
sau4 sreik2a ghan1 thak1 dzúo3c
ghwei1a ghwei1a sran2b ken1 sywí3c
nyám3b nyám3b zung3c dzyàng3 ghúo3c

sat3b ghwen3a mung1b tsheing3b dzyen3b
tshruo3b nyet3b èi4 bòu3b thúo1
tsyuo3c meing2b pàn1 kwang1 kwéing4
ghúo1 yóu3b tshàn1 khé1 srúo3c

truó3c tshreik2b máng3 dzan4 gi3d
tshywet3b mung3b yí3d deing4 nguó1
meing4 meing4 tsí3d kwi3by kàu4
mi3a kèing4 pet3a kám1b tshúo3c
Modern Mandarin 

Fǎ jìng sì 
Dù Fǔ 

Shēn wēi shì tā zhōu, 
Miǎn qiǎng zhōng láokǔ. 
Shén shāng shān xíng shēn, 
Chóu pò yá sì gǔ. 

Chán juān bì xiǎn jìng, 
Xiāo suǒ hán tuò jù. 
Huí huí shān gēn shuǐ, 
Rǎn rǎn sōng shàng yǔ. 

Xiè yún méng qīng chén, 
Chū rì yì fù tǔ. 
Zhū méng bàn guāng jiǒng, 
Hù yǒu càn kě shǔ. 

Zhǔ cè wàng qián qī, 
Chū mèng yǐ tíng wǔ. 
Míng míng zǐ guī jiào, 
Wēi jìng bù gǎn qǔ. 

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