299. Exile’s Letter
© Ezra Pound
From the Chinese of Li Po, usually considered the greatest poet of China: written by him while in exile about 760 A. D., to the Hereditary War-Councillor of Sho, “recollecting former companionship.”
To So-Kin of Rakuyo, ancient friend, Chancellor of
Now I remember that you built me a special tavern
By the south side of the bridge at Ten-Shin.
With yellow gold and white jewels, we paid for songs
And we were drunk for month on month, forgetting the
kings and princes.
Intelligent men came drifting in from the sea and from
the west border,
And with them, and with you especially
There was nothing at cross purpose,
And they made nothing of sea-crossing or of mountain-
If only they could be of that fellowship,
And we all spoke out our hearts and minds, and without
And when I was sent off to South Wei,
smothered in laurel groves,
And you to the north of Raku-hoku,
Till we had nothing but thoughts and memories in
And then, when separation had come to its worst,
We met, and travelled into Sen-Go,
Through all the thirty-six folds of the turning and
Into a valley of the thousand bright flowers,
That was the first valley;
And into ten thousand valleys full of voices and pine-
And with silver harness and reins of gold,
Out came the East of Kan foreman and his company.
And there came also the ‘True man’ of Shi-yo to meet
Playing on a jewelled mouth-organ.
In the storied houses of San-Ko they gave us more
Many instruments, like the sound of young phoenix
The foreman of Kan Chu, drunk, danced
because his long sleeves wouldn't keep still
With that music playing,
And I, wrapped in brocade, went to sleep with my
head on his lap,
And my spirit so high it was all over the heavens,
And before the end of the day we were scattered like
stars, or rain.
I had to be off to So, far away over the waters,
You back to your river-bridge.
And your father, who was brave as a leopard,
Was governor in Hei Shu, and put down the barbarian
And one May he had you send for me,
despite the long distance.
And what with broken wheels and so on, I won't say it
wasn't hard going,
Over roads twisted like sheep's guts.
And I was still going, late in the year,
in the cutting wind from the North,
And thinking how little you cared for the cost,
and you caring enough to pay it.
And what a reception:
Red jade cups, food well set on a blue jewelled table,
And I was drunk, and had no thought of returning.
And you would walk out with me to the western corner
of the castle,
To the dynastic temple, with water about it clear as
With boats floating, and the sound of mouth-organs and
With ripples like dragon-scales, going grass green on the
Pleasure lasting, with courtezans, going and coming
With the willow flakes falling like snow,
And the vermilioned girls getting drunk about sunset,
And the water, a hundred feet deep, reflecting green
Eyebrows painted green are a fine sight in young
And the girls singing back at each other,
Dancing in transparent brocade,
And the wind lifting the song, and interrupting it,
Tossing it up under the clouds.
And all this comes to an end.
And is not again to be met with.
I went up to the court for examination,
Tried Layu's luck, offered the Choyo song,
And got no promotion,
and went back to the East Mountains
And once again, later, we met at the South bridge-head.
And then the crowd broke up, you went north to San
And if you ask how I regret that parting:
It is like the flowers falling at Spring's end
Confused, whirled in a tangle.
What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,
There is no end of things in the heart.
I call in the boy,
Have him sit on his knees here
To seal this,
And send it a thousand miles, thinking.
(Translated by Ezra Pound from the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa, and the decipherings of the Professors Mori and Araga.)
Submitted by Ruth Baxendale