Tuesday, 18 June 2013

extracts from "The South Mountains" by Han Yu (韓愈)

Gazing as I climbed a high peak
I saw them huddle closer together,
Angles and corners jutting as the air brightened,
Emerging patterns in a needlework;
Or interfused in a steamy haze
Pierced through by sudden glimpses of heights and depths
As it drifted at random, winnowed without a wind,
And dissipated to warm the tender growths.
Sometimes a level plain of cloud settled
With scattered peaks exposed above,
Long eyebrows floating in the empty sky,
The lustrous green of paint newly touched up;
And a single strut of broken crag protruded,
The upreared beak of the Roc as it bathes in the sea.
In spring when the Yang waters in secret
And from deep within breathes up the glistening shoots,
Though cliff and crag loom tall against the sky
Their outlines soften like a drunken face.
In summer's flames, when the trees are at their prime
Dense and shady, and deeper bury the hills,
The magic spirit day by day exhales
A breath which issues in the shaping clouds.
While the autumn frosts delight in punishing
The hills stand starved and stripped, with wasted flanks
And sharp edges which zigzag across the horizon,
In inflexible pride scorning the universe.
Though winter's element is inky black
The ice and snow are master jewellers,
And the light of dawn shines over the dangerous peaks
Constant wide and high for a thousand miles.
In daylight or darkness never a fixed posture,
From moment to moment always a different scene.

North of the great lake of Kunming,
On a brilliant day, I came to view the mountain.
It dropped straight down as far as I could see
Trapped wrongside up and steeped in the clear water.
When ripples stirred on the face of the pool
The rowdy monkeys hopped and skipped,
Shrieked with amazement to see their shattered shapes,
Looked up and gaped with relief that they had not fallen in.

Fine weather since yesterday.
My old ambition is satisfied at last.
I've clambered all the way to the topmost peak,
Scurrying with the flying-squirrels and the weasels.
The road dips in front, the vista opens
Far and wide over crowded bumps and wrinkles,
Lined up in files like processions
Or crouched like grappling fighters,
Or laid low, as though prostrate in submission,
Or starting up like crowing pheasants;
Scattered like loose tiles
Or running together like converging spokes,
Off keel like rocking boats
Or in full stride like horses at the gallop;
Back to back as though offended,
Face to face as though lending a hand,
Tangled like sprouting bamboos
Or piled like moxa on a wound;
Neatly composed like a picture,
Curly like ancient script,
Constellated like stars,
Conglomerated like stationary clouds,
Surging like billows,
Crumbling like hoed soil,
And some like champions, Fen or Yu,
When the stakes are down, eager for the prize ahead,
The foremost and strongest rearing high above,
The losers looking foolish and speechless with rage;
Or like some majestic Emperor
And the vassals gathered in his court,
Even the nearest not too familiar,
Even the furthest never insubordinate;
Or like guests seated at a table
With the banquet spread before them,
Or like a cortege on the way to the graveyard
Carrying the coffin to the tomb:
And some in rows like pots
With others sticking up behind like vases:
Some carapaced like basking turtles,
Slumped like sleeping animals,
Wriggling like dragons fleeing into hiding,
Spreading wings like pouncing vultures;
Side by side like friends and equals,
Ranked as though in due degree,
Shooting apart like falling spray
Or introducing themselves like lodgers in an inn;
Aloof as enemies
Or intimate as man and wife,
Dignified as tall hats
Or flippant as waving sleeves,
Commanding like fortresses
Or hemmed in like hunted prey;
Draining away to the East
Or reclining with heads to the North,
Like flames in the kitchen stove,
Like the steam of a cooking dinner;
Marchers who will not halt
And the stragglers left behind,
Leaning posts which do not topple,
Unstrung bows which no one draw,
Bare like bald pates,
Smoking like pyres;
Unevenly cracked like diviners' tortoiseshells
Or split into layers like hexagrams,
Level across the front like Bo,
Or broken at the back like Gou.

(Three extracts from a poem of 102 couplets, all ending on the same rhyme, about the mountains south of the capital Chang'an, including Zhongnan (South Mountain) and Taibo.)

Translated by Angus Charles Graham

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