The Waters of the Mei-Pei

BY TU FU

T'ang Dynasty

Two friends whose love of wonders led them oft
To leave the haunts and scenes of every day,
Invited me to join them in a voyage
Across the waters of the dread Mei-Pei!
Where nature in her changeful moods is seen,
In grandeur and in terror side by side;
Where mighty forces alter heaven and earth,
And puny human strength and life deride.
Will countless billows of the wide expanse
In ceaseless motion mount and roll afar?
Through fluid piles of seeming crystal rocks
Will our boat sail beyond the sheltering bar?
Delightful is the venture that we take,
And yet dire fears will gather in our throat,
The gavial huge may come in search of prey,
The monster whales may overturn our boat!
Fierce winds may rise and billows roll and break!
But our brave friends unloose the flowing sail,
And through the scattering flocks of duck and tern
The boat glides on—the white foam in our trail.
The pure and bracing air inflates our lungs—
Afar from towns where dust with cleanness vies;
The boatmen chant gay ditties as they work,
While sounds of lutes rise to the azure skies.
As fresh as dew on early morning flowers
The leaves of water-lilies float around,
Upon the surface of the water clear,
Through which we peer in vain to find the ground.
Then yielding to the current, broad and strong,
Toward the central flood we quickly forge;
The waters pure as those of Puh and Hsiai,
Yet darkly deep as in the Chong-Nan gorge.
The mountain heights whose base abuts the lake
Are mirrored clearly in the southern end;
The Great Peace Temple, which in cloudland hangs,
Reflects its image in the eastern bend.
The moon has risen, and its silver beams
Across the Lan-Tien Pass in beauty glow,
While we sit idly on the vessel's side
And watch the nodding peaks in depths below.
And as we view the mirage of the heights
Which tower in mighty strength above our heads,
The swift Li-Long in prodigal display
A shower of pearls upon the water spreads.
The Ruler of the Rivers beats his drum,
And dragons haste the summons to obey;
The Consorts of the ancient king descend,
Led by the Maiden of the Star-lit Way.
To branchèd instruments of beaten gold,
Adorned with pendants of sapphire and jade,
They sing, and dance, midst lights of many hues,
Which flash in splendour, then in darkness fade.
In ecstasy we watch the wondrous scene,
But awe and joy are mingled in our mind,
For now far off we hear the thunder peal,
And lowering clouds with lurid lights are lined.
The waters heave with burdensome unrest,
The air is full of shadows of the dead;
The Spirits of the Universe are near,
And we cannot divine their portents dread.
And such is life—an hour of changing scenes
Of fitful joy and quickly following grief;
An hour of buoyant youth in rapid flight,
And then old age to end life—sad and brief!