Farmers have already started to plow
thick smoke is rising from their yards
birds are singing sweetly from garden trees
being retired I was still asleep
unaware the day was so late
I got up and gazed at the azure sky
I stretched my limbs
and felt happy indeed
then I went back below thatched eaves
poured some wine and considered fine men
adjusting their belts on their way to the office
with nothing but documents to fill their days
wishing they were here in the woods
enjoying the sight of mountains and streams
unless you’re living in enlightened times
why not work on yourselves instead
by Wei Ying-wu, translated by Red Pine
Translation © Red Pine, 2009. This week’s poem is taken from In Such Hard Times: The Poetry of Wei Ying-wu, and reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
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Born into an aristocratic family in decline, Wei Ying-wu (737–791) served in several government posts without distinction. He disdained the literary establishment of his day and fashioned a poetic style counter to the mainstream: one of profound simplicity centered in the natural world. You can find out more about Wei Ying-wu in a sample from the introduction to In Such Hard Times here.
Bill Porter (who assumes the pen name Red Pine for his translation work), is one of the finest translators of Chinese poetry into English and the first to translate the classical anthology Poems of the Masters. He was born in Los Angeles in 1943, grew up in the Idaho Panhandle, served a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, graduated from the University of California with a degree in anthropology, and attended graduate school at Columbia University. Uninspired by the prospect of an academic career, he dropped out of Columbia and moved to a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. After four years with the monks and nuns, he struck out on his own and eventually found work at English-language radio stations in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where he interviewed local dignitaries and produced more than a thousand programs about his travels in China.
In October 2010, Red Pine received the American Literary Translation Association’s Lucien Stryk award for In Such Hard Times. Read more poems from the book on this page.
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