Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fair and Ugly Disappear

—Photo by D. R. Wagner, Elk Grove

—Liu Tsung-yüan, 773-819

The cycle of life is a worrisome thing,
a single breath that gathers and scatters again.
We come by chance into a hubbub of joy and rage
and suddenly we’re taking leave again.
To be an underling is no disgrace,
neither is nobility divine;
all at once when breathing stops,
fair and ugly disappear in decay.
You slaved in my stables all your life,
cutting fodder, you never complained you were tired.
When you died we gave you a cheap coffin
and buried you at the foot of the eastern hill.
But then, alas, there came a raging flood
that left you helter-skelter by the roadside.
Dry and brittle, your hundred bones baked in the sun,
scattered about, never to join again.
Luckily an attendant told me of this,
and the vision saddened me to tears,
for even cats and tigers rate a sacrificial offering,
and dogs and horses have their ragged shrouds.
Long I stand here mourning for your soul
yet how could you know of this act?

Basket and spade bear you to the grave
which waterways will keep from further harm.
My mind is now at ease
whether you know it or not.
One should wait for spring to cover up bones,
and propitious is the time now.
Benevolence for all things is not mine to confer;
you call it a personal favor for you.

(trans. from the Chinese by Jan W. Walls)