Unexpected poems

In a small room with a big window in central Berlin I came across a translated volume of Tang-poet Bai Juyi (白居易 772–846).

Some of the poems bring to mind the familiar skizma between official employment in the city and a romantic tendency towards recluse in the country side. In this one, however, he seem to have achieved a possible symbiosis:

In the Palace

Gates massive, a ninefold silence;
windows darkened, the whole room still:
a perfect spot to practice mind cultivation.
What need to be deep in the mountains?

(translated by Burton Watson)

Though rightly famous for his social criticism (as in the poem Liao ling – Reflecting on the Toil of the Weaving Women) it is these short pieces like simple and sparkling still-leben from another time, that touch me the most. Reading them is like eating drops of semi crystallized moments. Still soft in the center, the first bite releases the sent of real moments lived by a real person in real time. Like this poem which seems to flow from the image of the well, melting sounds and light into a liquid stream of night keeping the poet company in his sleep:

Early Autumn, Alone at Night

Parasol tree by the well, cold leaves stirring;
nearby fulling mallets that speak an autumn sound:
I sleep alone facing the eaves,
wake to find moonlight half over the bed.

(translated by Burton Watson)

Thank you unknown person for leaving these unexpected poems fro me to find.

For more poems by Bai Juyi there is this website which has a few of his works online in both characters and translation, or the Burton Watson translation: Po Chü-I – Selected Poems. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

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