Du Fu: On Meeting Li Guinian South of the Yangtze (From Chinese)

This poem was written only a few months before Du Fu's lonely death in the winter of 770, when Du Fu seems to have felt that the glory days of his society were now long gone. 
Li Guinian, one of the singers at Xuanzong's court, was famous for his talents which earned him vast amounts of wealth. During the An Lushan rebellion, he fled southward like many others. The biographical statements contained in this poem may or may not be true. There is reason to suspect that Du Fu could not actually have been in the places he says he was in at a time when he could have seen whom he says he saw there. Poets can lie or confabulate. 
What is relevant at least to me is that in medieval Chinese poetics, 花 huā "flowers, blossoms" (particularly fruit-tree blossoms) often represent virtuous people, those whose talents would be of benefit to the nation but who have gone unplucked, leaving the beauty of their talent to waste in the political hinterlands. Though more readily and commonly they also are used to represent the glory of springtime and youth as well as the fading and withering of old age and autumn ("and this same flower that smiles today / tomorrow will be dying" as Herrick reminds us.)  "Falling blossoms" or 落花 luòhuā, a phrase occurring in this poems 4th line, are a mainstay of literary Chinese symbolizing the evanescence and brevity of human life in general or of a particular human experience. Especially when connoting the former, they are associated with the state of being 悲秋 bēiqiū "autumnally melancholic," i.e. being reminded by the onset of autumn that one is ever-closer to death and decline in old age, or the autumn of one's life. Yet there is also often an element of beauty implied in such melancholia, an appreciation of the sad beauty that is itself a function of transience, what the Japanese denote with that wonderful phrase 物の哀れ "the poignancy of things." 
I have tried through capitalization to suggest multiple readings, multiple possible syntaxes and implications, in my translation's final seven words.

On Meeting Li Guinian South of the Yangtze
By Du Fu
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

So many times I saw you  out at Prince Qi's lodge
So many a time I heard you  sing in Lord Cui's hall
Here south of the Yangtze how wonderful the landscape
As one more time I meet you  as the last Spring blossoms Fall

The Original Text:



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