Thursday, 3 September 2015

Planting Trees

I have been reading the poetry of Po Chu-i, a minor government official living in China at the end of the eighth, beginning of the ninth century. This is one of my favourites. He wrote it after being packed off to be the governor of Pa district, where he knew no-one. He had to leave his family behind and it was clearly a lonely time for him.

I took money and bought flowering trees
And planted them out on the bank to the east of the Keep.
I simply bought whatever had most blooms,
Not caring whether peach, apricot, or plum.
A hundred fruits, all mixed up together;
A thousand branches, flowering in due rotation.
Each has its season coming early or late;
But to all alike the fertile soil is kind.
The red flowers hang like a heavy mist;
The white flowers gleam like a fall of snow.
The wandering bees cannot bear to leave them;
The sweet birds also come there to roost.
In front there flows an ever-running stream;
Beneath there is built a little flat terrace.
Sometimes I sweep the flagstones of the terrace;
Sometimes, in the wind, I raise my cup and drink.
The flower-branches screen my head from the sun;
The flower-buds fall down into my lap.
Alone drinking, alone singing my songs,
I do not notice that the moon is level with the steps.
The people of Pa do not care for flowers;
All the spring no one has come to look.
But their Governor General, alone with his cup of wine,
Sits till evening and will not move from the place!

Po Chu-i
(from Chinese Poems, translated by Arthur Waley
©The Arthur Waley Estate)

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