Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Stanzas written in dejection

Translation of 宣州谢朓楼饯别校书叔云 ("A Farewell to Secretary Shuyun at the Xietiao Villa in Xuanzhou") by Li Bai.

STANZAS WRITTEN IN DEJECTION.

FROM THE CHINESE OF LI-TAI-PÈ.

[This poet is considered by his countrymen, according to the Marquis D’Hervey St. Denys, their greatest poet. The admiration of the Chinese for him is so great that they have erected a temple in his honour, as the “Great Doctor,’ the “Prince of Poetry,” and, what to European ears savours of bathos, “The immortal given to drink.” He was born A.D. 702. He died at the age of 61, A.D. 763.—Ed. O. a W.]

I.

The sun of yesterday which leaves me,
No earthly skill can woo to stay,
To-day’s pale gloom which chills and grieves me,
No human arm can hold away:
The birds of passage, ever flying past,
In countless flocks stream down the autumn blast,
I mount my tower to gaze far off, and fast
Fill wine-cups from the waning jar.

II.

The mighty bards, long dead, seem rising
Around me in this lonely place,
I murmur through the old songs, prizing
Their matchless vigour, truth, and grace—
I too feel powers that will not be controlled,
But cannot rival here the great of old,
Till to pure skies up-soaring, I behold,
More closely, each unclouded star.

III.

Vainly our swords would cleave the river:
It keeps its ever-living flow;
Vainly in wine-cups, mantling ever,
We strive to drown the sense of woe—
Man, in this life, when stormy fate grows dark,
Must let her billows rock his wandering bark,
Give the wild waves their will, nor pause to mark
Too keenly how they foam afar.

Francis Hastings Doyle.