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Parting -- Li Po

Yesterday's poem leads into this week's theme, translated poetry:
(Poem #749) Parting
 Green mountains rise to the north;
 white water rolls past the eastern city.

 Once it has been uprooted,
 the tumbleweed travels forever.

 Drifting clouds like a wanderer's mind;
 sunset, like the heart of your old friend.

 We turn, pause, look back and wave,
 Even our ponies look back and whine.
-- Li Po
Translated by Sam Hamill.

Quite a few poets have essayed their own translations of Li Po's poem.
Here's the inimitable Ezra Pound:


 Blue mountains to the north of the wall,
 White river winding about them;
 Here we must make separation
 And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.

 Mind like a floating wide cloud,
 Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances
 Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance
 Our horses neigh to each other
 as we are departing.

        -- Ezra Pound

And here's his Imagist colleague Amy Lowell:


 Clear green hills at a right angle to the North Wall,
 White water winding to the East of the city.
 Here is the place where we must part.
 The lonely water-plants go ten thousand li;
 The floating clouds wander everywhither as does man.
 Day is departing--it and my friend.
 Our hands separate. Now he is going.
 "Hsiao, hsiao," the horse neighs.
 He neighs again, "Hsiao, hsiao."

        -- Amy Lowell and Florence Ayscough

My favourite translator, though, is Sam Hamill; there's something about his
style - simple, unaffected, yet intensely evocative, which resonates with my
idea of what Li Po's marvellous poems _should_ be like. Hamill's 1993
anthology "Endless River: Li Po and Tu Fu, A Friendship in Poetry" is
especially ecommended.

I'm told that Vikram Seth has some exquisite translations of Li Po, Tu Fu
and Wang Wei in his anthology "Three Chinese Poets"; I haven't read them
myself, though. Several other translations of this particular poem can be
found on Ken Hope's impressive website, at
[broken link]



Once again, let me plug Ken Hope's pages dedicated to Li Po [1], which are
part of his large and very comprehensive poetry website [2]. I especially
recommend the Story of the Yellow Crane [3], which, although it has no
direct connection with Li Po, is very beautiful. Also not to be missed is
Hope's own introductory essay on Li Po [4], an essay which brims over with
enthusiasm and delight.

[1] [broken link]
[2] [broken link]
[3] [broken link]
[4] [broken link]

Li Po has featured on the Minstrels before; check out
  Poem #70, "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
  Poem #504, "About Tu Fu"
  Poem #683, "To Tu Fu from Shantung"
all of which can be found on the Minstrels website,

[On the theme]

Spare a thought for translators: they have to balance painstaking
craftsmanship with original expression; insightful criticism with deep and
abiding sympathy for the works they criticize; poetic licence with faithful
tribute. If the poet is the bold and innovative composer of symphonies, the
translator is the maestro who conducts them, bringing his own interpretation
to the concert hall while taking care never to obscure or misrepresent the
creative genius behind them. It's a hard task, and a thankless one; how many
translators can _you_ name? This week's theme attempts to redress the
balance by highlighting some poems (and poets) who've benefited from having
wonderful translators. As usual, if you have any suggestions you'd like to
share with the rest of the list, do write in.

50 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Colm Maccrossan said...

I recognised this poem when it appeared, but not the name. It is included
in an anthology called 'The Rattle Bag', edited by Seamus Heaney & Ted
Hughes (Faber & Faber, 1982). The title of the version they include,
though, (Ezra Pound's) is 'Taking Leave of a Friend', and it is credited to

I know nothing about either poet (or if they are the same) but find the
different title can greatly affect the rest of the poem. It has the effect
of focusing the event more on the speaker who is 'taking leave' and gives
the 'friend' a less than equal role. But it also develops the relationship
of the human characters (and equally the horses) beyond the slightly distant
'acquaintances' which Pound uses where both Hamill and Lowell use 'friend'.

I don't know which title is Pound's own, but the difference shows not only
the challenge facing a translator but also the importance to all poets of
choosing their titles, because of how it can affect the way the whole piece
is read. Differing translations can be good tools for demonstrating basics
of poetry like this because rather than just examining a poem on its own
merits it can be compared to a different version and subtleties of language
choice ('friends' vs. 'acquaintences') show up where in the normal course of
reading the poet's possible alternatives don't necessarily suggest
themselves. It is a similar excercise to comparing finished poems with
earlier drafts.

Going back to this specific poem, I personally prefer Pound's version to
Hamill's if only because he treats the horses more as independent beings
rather than just reflections of their riders. For me, this makes the image
that much stronger and the emotion that much more natural. But then Lowell
& Ayscough don't draw the comparison directly at all and also ditch the
awkward "sunset like" image which is, well, awkward in both other versions.
This may be best of all.

Other than that I just want to say how good 'The Rattle Bag' is: several
hundred poems in English but sourced from many languages (including
Serbo-Croat, Navajo, Yoruba, Gaelic and others). As for English-language
poets it includes the 'greats' like Yeats and Keats and Shakespeare, but
also Ogden Nash, Allen Ginsberg, and 40-50 poems with no known author. Good
for idly flicking through, exploring and sharing.

Ito Ryusuke said...

Although the reference to the "east" or "eastern" is omitted and the poetic
aesthetics of it may be suspect, I believe the following is a more accurate
translation in literal as well as alluded meanings. "Ten thousand li" is
translated as "A thousand miles" since it sounds more natural and conveys
the same meaning. Some poetic licence is used in making the ponies "neigh in
response" whereas the original just had the men waving and the ponies

Blue mountains rise to the north;
white waters flow by the city.

Bidding farewell to this land
to wander for a thousand miles.

Clouds above drifting like your heart;
but this sunset reflects my own.

At your deparature we wave,
as the ponies neigh in response.


Ito Ryusuke said...


Rihaku is a Japanese pronounciation of the Chinese characters spelling: Li
Po or Li Bao.


تقنية المعلومات said...

i read much good than this poem for him

Anonymous said...

Pound and Hamill share the poet's love of the sound of their native language (American English) and both show the skill that grows from practicing a talent...neither "knew" Chinese, but both clearly did very well with just "a little help from their friends"... Given a an honorable effort at understanding the original, poetic final draft makes the diff:

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