Poet's Pick April 17
Du Fu: "Spring View"
Selected by Kathleen Graber
National Poetry Month 2013

Letter from the Editors

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Kathleen Graber's Poetry Month Pick, April 17, 2013

"Spring View"
by Du Fu (712–770)

The country is ruined, yet the mountains and rivers remain.
In the city in spring, the grass and trees grow dense and wild.
In this sorrowful time, the flowers are wet with tears.
Amid our terrible scattering, the birds startle my heart.
The war-fires have burned for three months.
Any word from home is worth ten thousand coins.
I have worn thin my short white wisps with scratching.
Soon they will no longer hold my hairpin.


* Kathleen Graber Comments:
While I am profoundly unqualified to translate this poem that comes to us from one of the three great Chinese poets of Tang Dynasty, what you see above is, nevertheless, my very humble effort.  I have been greatly aided by the fact that there are already more than fifty English translations of  “Spring View” (though somewhat variously named) readily available, including several claiming to be “literal.”  The earliest version I have been able to find is Witter Bynner’s from The Jade Mountain (1929).  The poem was originally composed in strict five-character verse, and Chou Ping provides a concise but detailed explanation of that form and its deft execution in this particular poem in his introduction to The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry, which he edited with Tony Barnstone.  If you do not know these books, then think of this as my way of urging you to find them. 

No one would dispute the profound influence Chinese poetry, so central to Pound’s aesthetic ideas, has had on contemporary American poetry. Is it a stretch to say that without Du Fu, Li Bai (Li Po), and Wang Wei, the poems of James Wright would not be possible?

I do not want to diminish this poem (more than my translation of it already has) by attempting to say too much about its achievements.  Like so much of the poetry of Du Fu, its power in translation resides in the accuracy and unadorned simplicity of its images and assertions.  In this small space, the poet weaves and juxtaposes the natural and the human, the personal and the historical, the body and the spirit that inhabits it.  Even the title, which seems to suggest a forecast, prospect, or outlook as much as an actual scene, cuts both ways, referencing both the modestly specific and the ironic, just as the poem offers us simultaneously both its tragically apparent and its figurative significances.

About Kathleen Graber:
Kathleen Graber is the author of The Eternal City (2010), a finalist for the National Book Award, and Correspondence (2006), winner of the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize and a finalist for the National Poetry Series. Her honors include a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, an Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Hodder Fellowship in Creative Writing at Princeton University, and an Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship.

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