Tao Qian — Pallbearer’s Song

Pallbearer’s Song

Tao Qian

365-427 CE
(translated by William P. Coleman)

Wild grass, how vast, vast;
White poplars too, sighing, sighing.

Harsh frost has come in the middle of the ninth month,
and you send me off in the distant countryside.

On all sides, there’s no one living:
just tall tombs towering, in rows.

So the horse lifts his head and neighs;
So the wind, alone, blows bleakly.

The dark chamber — once it’s already closed,
in a thousand years, the dawn will not come again.

In a thousand years, the dawn will not come again,
and the sages, the wise — they cannot help —

it’s in the past. People see each other off
and each person returns home —

the relatives. Perhaps their sorrow stays;
but they’ve already sung for other people,

dead and gone now. Where gone?
Entrust the body to a fold in the mountains.

I found the Chinese text and an English translation of this poem — along with the word-by-word literal translation I used to create this one — on pp. 110-1 of Wai-Lim Yip’s book Chinese Poetry: an Anthology of Major Modes and Genres, Duke University Press, 1997; ISBN 0-8223-1946-2.

The grammar of Chinese allows poets to leave interpretive choices open, and it’s an unattainable ideal of translating to bring out possibilities without closing others. I try to use my sense of English to at least intrigue you. If I’ve succeeded, it’s best — even if you don’t know Chinese, which I don’t either — to follow up at the source I cite above and see the original word-by-word translation from which I worked. It’ll be richer than what I’ve given you. To understand the poem best, try to construct your own translation.

See the FAQ and the external links at Chinese Poems, a beautiful resource with many poems.


more Chinese poetry translations in this blog More Chinese poetry translations in this blog.
more Chinese poetry translations in this blog Home page for my Tao Qian translations.

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One Response to Tao Qian — Pallbearer’s Song

  1. j.p.seaton says:

    I like very much what you are doing here. I have a lot on my plate right now…retired from UNC Chapel Hill, working harder than I ever have, and without the day to day renewal of dialogue with students. As I get things cleared up I’ll write again. Yours, J.P.Seaton

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