Tuesday, 18 June 2013

"An Arrowhead from the Ancient Battlefield of Chang-ping" (c.800) by Li He (李賀)

Lacquer dust and powdered bone and red cinnabar grains:
From the spurt of ancient blood the bronze has flowered.
White feathers and gilt shaft have melted away in the rain,
Leaving only this triple-cornered broken wolf's tooth.

I was searching the plain, riding with two horses,
In the stony fields east of the post-station, on a bank where bamboos sprouted,
After long winds and brief daylight, beneath the dreary stars,
Damped by a black flag of cloud which hung in the empty night.

To left and right, in the air, in the earth, ghosts shrieked from wasted flesh.
The curds drained from my upturned jar, mutton victuals were my sacrifice.
Insects settled, the wild geese swooned, the buds were blight-reddened on the reeds,
The whirlwind was my escort, puffing sinister fires.

In tears, seeker of ancient things, I picked up this broken barb
With snapped point and russet flaws, which once pierced through flesh.
In the east quarter on South Street a pedlar on horseback
Talked me into bartering the metal for a votive basket.

Translated by Angus Charles Graham

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