The Exile'€™s Letter


(To Yüan)
Remember how Tung built us a place to drink in
At Lo-yang south of the T'ien-ching bridge?
White jade and gold bought songs and laughter.
We drank forgetting Court and princes.
Those amongst us, wisest and bravest
On all this side of rivers and oceans,
Hearts high as clouds, and you and I together,
Cared nothing at crossing lakes and mountains
Only to share our thoughts and feelings.

Then I went out south-east to cut the laurel,
You north of Lo River still lost in dreams.
No joy in being parted. Soon back again in mountains,
Tracking the thirty-six twists and turns of valley,
By the streams bright with a thousand flowers,
By endless waters,
Hearing pine-trees sighing,
Till we met the Hang-tung Governor
On a gold and silver saddle,
And Hu the True-Taoist drew us with his pipe playing,
Making unearthly music out of the high tower,
Strange sounds of the mating phoenix.
The Governor's sleeves kept time to the music,
So that he rose, drunk, and danced a little,
Brought his brocade coat, covered my body.
I fell asleep, head resting in his lap.
By day our hearts rose to the nine heavens.
At evening we scattered like blown stars or rain,
I to my far mountain over hills and waters,
You to your own house by the bridge of Wei.

That winter I made your father's North City,
Loved you for the way you did me honour,
Sharing your wealth, thinking nothing of it.
Wine there - in cups of amber,
Food there - on plates of jade.
I ate and drank, no thoughts of returning.
We went out to the west. The river parts there,
Round the ancient shrine of a Prince of Chou.
Boats on the waters to drums and piping.
Waves made of dragon scales. Jade-green rushes.
We drank and drank, lived the passing moments,
Forgetting how they go like blossoms or snowfall.
Flushed with wine, warm in glow of sunset,
The hundred-foot deep pool mirroring bright faces,
Dancing-girls delicate as willows in the moonlight,
Notes lost in the silken sleeves' fluttering.
A white breeze blew their song to the sky,
Winding through the air, twisting in the cloud-lanes.
Never again. Never again such joy.

I went west but got no promotion.
White-headed back to eastern hills.
Met once more south of Wei's bridge.
Parted again north of Tso's terrace.
And if you ask my feelings at parting,
They were inside me like Spring flowers falling.
No way to say what's in the heart. Never.
I call in the boy. Have him kneel here, tie this,
To send my feelings through a thousand miles.


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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.