The Classic of Poetry

English Translation by Yakov Rabinovich

1-25 as of October 2008

 

 

Poems 1-11

Songs of Jo

 

1

 

Gwan, gwan! go the ospreys

on the island in the river.

A virgin girl, beautiful, good:

fine mate for the nobleman.

 

The water mallows grow, some tall, some short.

We pluck on the right, find more on the left.

A virgin girl, beautiful, good;

every day the young lord thinks of her,

when he sleeps, he seeks her in his dreams ---

 

he wants her, he can't get her.

Asleep, awake, he thinks of her,

all the workings of his mind work

only for her. Pensive, sad,

unable to sleep, he tosses

all night, shifts postion, changes side.

 

The water mallows grow, tall or short.

We pick some on the right, then on the left.

A virgin girl, beautiful, good,

led with wedding music. Lutes

commend her like friends, musicians pluck

her praises from the strings.

 

The water mallows grow, some tall, some short.

We harvest from the left, fill our baskets from the right.

A virgin girl, beautiful, good:

these are her wedding drums,

her wedding wine, her wedding happiness.

 

 

2

 

Far and wide grow the cloth-fibre trees,

down the hillsides, half across the vale,

leaves growing close, lush, very lush.

Yellow birds fly over, roost

in the cloth-tree grove, chirping all together.

 

Far and wide grow the cloth-fibre trees,

down the hillsides, half across the vale,

thick-leaved. Shave their bark!

Harvest it in strips! It's pounded, it's cooked,

we make it into linen, coarse or fine,

weave it well for cloth that lasts.

 

I'm going to talk to the matron in charge,

tell her, tell her I have to go home,

just for a little, to wash my own clothing,

I'll be right back when I've cleaned my dress.

What needs cleaning, what needs it indeed?

I need to go look in on my old mom and dad!

 

 

3

 

In the  field a woman picks flowers,

a young woman, picking, distractedly picking,

she hasn't managed to fill her basket

shallow as it is.

She sighs. A man has taken her heart.

She sets her basket

down at the side of the road

he left on, the king's highway.

 

He's going slow up rocky heights now,

his horse is listless, stumbles.

He pauses, pours wine from a golden jar

hoping he may succeed for an instant

in not missing her with all his heart.

 

Now he climbs a tall ridge, a narrow rock path,

the horse is bleeding, its blood is shiny, dark.

The nobleman stops, just for a minute,

takes another drink from his cup

carved from precious rhino horn,

he tries to make his wound not hurt,

his wound that cannot bleed and always aches.

 

At last he's made it past the peaks,

his weary squire leads the limping horse

and complains, "Alas, alas!"

to no one in particular.

 

 

4

 

There's a tree down south, the cloth-fibre tree,

its boughs are draped with hanging vines:

O, happy is the noble lord,

good fortune and honors content him.

 

There's a tree down south, the cloth-fibre tree,

wild hanging vines overgrow its boughs:

O, happy is the noble lord,

good fortune and honors escort him.

 

There's a tree down south, the cloth-fibre tree,

its boughs are wound around with vines:

O, happy is the noble lord.

good fortune and honors perfect him.

 

 

5

 

Locusts, limitless, countless sound,

noisy as a crowd:

it's only right your sons, grandsons,

multiply beyond the count

of two hands' fingers.

 

Locusts, the sheer wings of them!

numberless as blades of grass:

it's only right your sons, grandsons

spin out a measureless line of descent.

 

Locusts, wings upon wings,

crowded as an audience, loud as applause

it's only right your sons, grandsons

swarm like summer's grasshopper horde.

 

 

6

 

The peach tree's fresh-leaved, flowering bright:

the noble lady's going to be married,

she'll see to it her house is kept proper and neat.

 

The peach tree's fresh-leaved, rich with fruit,

the noble lady's going to be married,

she'll see to it each room is ordered with care.

 

The peach tree's thick-leaved, makes cool shade,

the noble lady's going to be married,

she'll see to it her servants are busy, alert.

 

 

7

 

Pound in the stakes for the rabbit snare,

ding! ding! hammer them in,

ding, ding! like a halberd's ring!

Gallant and brave is the man-at-arms,

a shield and wall to his noble lord.

 

Pound in the stakes for the rabbit snare,

right in the place where two trails cross,

set it just where it needs to be!

Gallant and brave is the man-at-arms,

a good loyal friend to his noble lord.

 

Pound in the stakes for the rabbit snare,

place it far, in the deep of the woods,

in a place that only the hunter knows!

Gallant and brave is the man-at-arms,

the very heart and mind of his noble lord.

 

 

8

 

Picking the plantains, pick pick pick,

garner 'em, gather 'em up, O,

gather 'em, get 'em all, O!

 

Picking the plantains, pick pick pick,

tug 'em down, take 'em down, O,

pick 'em down, pluck 'em down all, O!

 

Picking the plantains, pick pick pick,

fill your apron full, O,

bundle 'em, bear 'em all home, O!

 

 

9

 

There's a tree that grows to the south of here,

too tall to grant its shadow

to the man that leans against it to rest.

There's a river that flows just south of here,

the Han: the girls who bathe in it

are pretty fishes hard to catch.

 

The river Han's too broad

to even consider swimming across,

the Jiang river's long, mind of man

can't fathom such endlessness.

 

We stack, stack high the new-cut fuel,

lop the rough logs free of branches;

the noble lady's coming to be married,

we'll give her horses grain when she arrives.

 

The river Han's too broad

to even consider swimming across,

the Jiang river's long, mind of man

can't fathom such endlessness.

 

We stack, stack high the new-cut fuel,

shave the rough logs free of leaf and twig;

the noble lady's coming to be married,

we'll give her ponies grain when she arrives.

 

The river Han's too broad

to even consider swimming across,

the Jiang river's long, mind of man

can't fathom such endlessness.

 

 

10

 

text corrupt

 

 

11

 

Startled, the unicorn gallops,

the sons of the duke hear its hooves.

They follow fast, After it,

the unicorn, O the quick beast!

 

The hunted unicorn tosses its head,

facing the sons of duke.

The duke's whole family's gallant. After it,

the unicorn, O the noble beast!

 

The unicorn's bayed, brandishes horn,

facing the sons of the duke,

sons of a numerous, warlike clan.

After it, the unicorn,

O the brave beast!

 

 

12-25

Songs of Shao

 

 

12

 

While the magpie builds the nest, still the cuckoo lays her eggs there;

the humble magpie's glad to hatch the cuckoo's lordly brood.

There's a girl going off to be married, a hundred pair of horses

pull her coach, prancing glad to serve the noble maiden.

 

While the magpie builds the nest, the cuckoo has plans for it,

but the humble magpie's glad to raise the blue-blood cuckoo's chicks.

There's a girl going off to be married, a hundred pair of horse

escort her, prancing glad to be beside so noble a maid.

 

While the magpie builds the nest, little cuckoos fill it;

the humble magpie's glad to feed the cuckoo's highborn family.

There's a girl going off to be married, a hundred pair of horse

draw her coach, prancing glad to complete the wedding procession.

 

 

13

 

She goes to gather asters

to the pond, to the little isles in it,

gathers starry white flowers

in the service of the duke.

 

She goes to gather asters

that grow along the hillside streams,

gathers starry white flowers

for the palace of the duke.

 

Look at the splendid turban she wears

to the duke's, morning and eve,

see the cloth of her head-dress flow

behind her as she comes and goes.

 

 

 14

 

Chirp chirp, go the grasshoppers, look how many, look how they jump!

I haven't seen my gentleman today,

my heart is sad, sad.

But if I just see him, just meet him by chance,

my heart is tame and pleased.

 

I climb the sunlit south side of the hill.

I haven't seen my gentleman yet,

my heart is doubting, sad.

But if I just see him, just meet him by chance,

my heart becomes glad.

 

Climbing the sunny side of this hill,

I haven't seen my gentleman yet,

my heart is baffled, hurt.

But if I just see him, just meet him by chance,

my heart's at peace.

 

 

15

 

Off to cull herbs at the sunny hillside stream-bank,

to gather savory plants, where the water floods and rushes down;

 

off homewards, carrying the gatherings, bundled and stacked

in basket and or box, to put them to to boil

bundled in kettles, placed into pots;

 

off to open the cupboard-like ancestor shrine,

to open its doors like a little window's shutters,

 

off to pour the ancestors an offering of the new-made soup ---

who raises the bowl and places it rightly?

Here is a dilligent, excellent, reverent girl!

 

 

16

 

The Earl of Shao was half-brother to King Wu, establisher of the Jo dynasty (1122-256 BC).

 

That pear tree gives a nice dark shade;

don't clip its twigs, don't prune its boughs,

under these the Earl of Shao once camped.

 

That pear tree gives a nice dark shade;

don't trim or clip or break a branch,

under these the Earl of Shao once rested.

 

That pear tree gives a nice dark shade;

don't trim, don't even bend its branches,

once it cheered the Earl of Shao.

 

 

17

 

The way is sodden, soaked with dew.

None could deny that path's too wet

for walking, dawn or dewy eve.

There are roads I do not care to walk.

 

The sparrow represents love,

but that doesn't mean his beak isn't sharp.

Just such a lovebird's pecking a hole

in my bedroom wall. A sparrow

of a noble lineage.

 

Yes, I was promised you in marriage,

but what will you gain by hauling me to court?

The judge may rule the contract stands,

but your house won't be my prison,

your noble house,

it isn't strong enough for that.

 

You gnaw your way through my home's thick walls,

like a rat. What fine teeth you have,

surely you come of good stock!

Any rodent would be proud

 

What will you gain, hauling me to court?

I follow the bailiff there, I must,

but I'll never follow you.

 

 

18

 

Lamb fur coats, five

white silk fringes each.

Lords leave duke to dine, defer,

"After you!" "No, after you!"

 

Sheep skin soft coats, five

white silk sewn seams each.

Lords leave duke to dine, defer,

"After you!" "No, after you!"

 

Lamb skins, tailored, five pockets each,

sewn with white silk, cleverly cut.

Lords leave duke to dine, defer,

"After you!" "No, after you!"

 

 

19

 

Listen to that thunder rumble,

echoing over sunlit South Mountain,

How could he leave here?

Is a little bit of leisure so unthinkable?

O, hurry, hurry, my lord, back home, back to me!

 

Listen to that thunder rumble,

echoing over South Mountain's sides.

How could he leave here?

Never, never time to rest, never time to think?

O hurry, hurry, my lord, back home, back to me!

 

Listen to that thunder rumble, echoing down South Mountain valley.

How could he leave here?

Would it be too much to ask, for him to have a home?

O, hurry, hurry, my lord, back home, back to me!

 

 

20

The plum tree's letting its fruit fall now,

seven remain, they're ready to drop.

All the gentlemen court me,

one of them will be lucky soon.

 

The plum tree's letting its fruit fall now,

three still hang there, ready to drop.

All the gentlemen court me,

one of them won't let this chance slip.

 

The plum tree's letting its fruit fall now,

you don't need a basket to gather what's left.

All the gentlemen court me,

one of them should really speak up!

 

 

21

 

Three, four, five stars left in the east,

tiny and faint in a brightening sky.

Hurry, we leave when night does,

hurry, concubines of the duke,

arriving at dusk, departing at dawn,

wives, but not quite wives:

our actual fates are not the same.

 

Orion and the Pleiades

are now a faint sparkling of stars.

Hurry, we leave when night does,

hurry, concubines of the duke,

arriving at dusk, departing at dawn

with the bedding we brought,

our own quilts and sheets in our arms,

wives, but not quite wives,

our actual fates are not like theirs.

 

 

 22

 

The river Jiang accepts the streams

that feed it. Madame would not

accept us. Her own younger sisters,

married along with her to become

number two and number three wives.

She didn't accept us, but later

she'd regret this.

 

The river Jiang allows islands,

many an island amid its waves.

Madame wouldn't allow us,

younger sisters, the lesser wives.

But she'd learn to live with us

in time.

 

The river Jiang forms branches, divides

its waters among the thirsty fields.

Madame didn't pass us on

to her husband then, but now

she sends us in to him, with a grin,

whistling a song.

 

 

23

 

Far in the forest, no one goes there,

a doe lies dead. The poacher covered her

with green weeds. No one will find her

before he comes back tonight.

In the forest, there's a young woman

all the springtime yearning in her heart.

A gentleman coaxes, entices her,

lucky man.

 

There's many and many a tree in the forest

and under one a deer lies dead,

trussed and covered with green weeds.

In those dense woods, where no one can see,

there's a girl as beautiful as jade.

 

"Relax, just let me open this one button."

A woman's sigh. "Don't touch my belt,

no --- " a long breath like a whisper,

"No, my little lapdog's right there,

careful, don't make him bark."

 

 

24

 

Nothing is known of this bride and groom beyond what is stated in the poem.

 

What's this, so richly thick, so splendidly dense?

The blossoms of the plum tree!

Musicians, why no sweet and reverent strain?

The royal bride's carriage arrives!

 

Why this rich and splendid dress,

like the blossoms of a peach or a plum tree?

The daughter of the Marquis of Chee

who marries King Ping's heir!

 

How did she land him? With beauty's hook,

elegant silks were the line.

The daughter of the Marquis of Chee

weds the grandson of good King Ping.

 

 

25

 

In the tall brush, in the reeds,

five wild pigs with a single shot!

Good riding, grooms and huntsmen, O!

 

In the tall brush, in the high grass,

five young pigs with a single shot!

Good riding, grooms and huntsmen, O!

 

 

 

 

 

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