旅夜书怀 Writing my Thoughts when Traveling at Night
作者：杜甫 （Author: Du Fu, 8th century)
细草微风岸 thin grass tiny wind shore
危墙独夜舟 fragile/tall mast lone night broad
星垂平野阔 star hang down flat field wide
月涌大江流 moon surge big river flow
名岂文章著 reputation how (question word) article show
官应老病休 official should old sick stop/rest
飘飘何所似 float float what (question word) similar to
天地一沙鸥 heaven earth one sand gull
Thin grass, and a gentle breeze on shore,
A tall mast on the night’s lone boat.
Starlight falls to the broad, flat fields,
And the moon’s reflection drifts in the great river’s flow.
Will I be known only for writing poems?
An official should rest when he’s old and sick.
But I flutter from place to place,
Like a gull between heaven and earth.
More than a thousand years after his death, Du Fu is still admired as one of China’s greatest poets, yet he was deeply disappointed by his failure to also become a great statesman. During Du Fu’s lifetime, China was devastated by the An Lushan Rebellion which cost millions of lives. As a Confucian, Du Fu wished to help the emperor to restore social order and to alleviate the suffering of the common people, but he never became more than a low ranking official. Please see Qu River for a detailed discussion of one of Du Fu’s attempts to guide official policy.
Some Chinese literary critics have compared the second couplet of this poem to the second couplet of Li Bai’s poem “Crossing at Jingmen and Waving Goodbye”, which we have also translated.
In Li Bai’s poem, the second couplet features images — mountains, plains, the Yangtze and the great wildness. The second couplet of this poem also has the flat field and the Yangtze, but it includes the stars and the moon as well, which appear later in Li Bai’s poem. It is an interesting comparison: Li Bai was crossing the Yangtze at the beginning of his career filled with hope and ready for adventure. His images are dynamic, fanciful, and dazzling. Du Fu was near the end of what he believed was a failed career, and he appears to be docked on the Yangtze rather than crossing it. His portrait of the same scene is quiet, still, and depressive.