1085: Spring View by Du Fu, translated by Arthur Sze

20240329 Slowdown

1085: Spring View by Du Fu, translated by Arthur Sze

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Victoria Chang.


I’m Victoria Chang and this is The Slowdown.

I was that kind of college student who floated from subject to subject, interested in just about everything. By the time I had graduated from the University of Michigan, I think I had considered at least five majors, from history to philosophy to literature to science to economics to psychology. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that I was, and am, trapped in a system that likes us to focus more and more, until we are staring down a tiny pinhole. If I could have majored in learning, I would have been elated.

One of my favorite subjects was Chinese history, simply because of how vast it is. History also interests me because I am constantly in awe of the way that so much has changed, yet, so much hasn’t changed. Then, there is the idea of a continuum, how we connect to each other through time. And how we are each a part of something much larger than ourselves.

I have always loved imagining how people lived a long time ago, what they thought about, how they dressed, what they ate. One of the best ways to see how people really lived is through poems, really old poems.

Du Fu is a poet who lived during the Tang Dynasty in China from 721 to 770, A.D. He was one of the three most prominent poets in the Tang era, along with Wang Wei and Li Bai. Du Fu lived during turbulent war times, which feels like every era of history, including our present times. Du Fu famously wrote about the An Lushan Rebellion when the general of the same name staged a rebellion in the Tang capital. Du Fu fled the capital, but in his attempt to return to meet up with his allies, he was captured and imprisoned. It was during this time that he wrote many powerful and beautiful poems such as the poem, “Spring View,” or in Chinese, Chun Wang.

In this poem the speaker writes about a broken country in the midst of a blooming spring, his longing for his family, and his own aging. And in this process, we get a tiny window into the mind of someone who lived nearly one thousand three hundred years ago.

Spring View
by Du Fu, translated by Arthur Sze

The nation is broken, but hills and rivers remain.
Spring is in the city, grasses and trees are thick.
Touched by the hard times, flowers shed tears.
Grieved by separations, birds are startled in their hearts.

The beacon fires burned for three consecutive months.
A letter from home would be worth ten thousand pieces of gold.
As I scratch my white head, the hairs become fewer:
so scarce that I try in vain to fasten them with a pin.

“Spring View” by Du Fu, translated by Arthur Sze from THE SILK DRAGON: TRANSLATIONS FROM THE CHINESE © 2001 Arthur Sze. Used by permission of the Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.