Night Journey (after Tu Fu)

This is not a translation, but rather a version, my “take” on a famous Tu Fu poem. I claim no abilities in translation, neither speak nor read Chinese, and instead depend upon the skills of those who have ventured into these difficult reaches. This is where the poem carries me, a middle-aged Texas hill county dweller, in the Year of the Horse, 2014.

Night Journey (after Tu Fu)

Wind bends the grass along the road.
A lonely truck passes by.
Stars reach down to touch these hills
and the moon drifts behind.

No one will ever know my poems.
I am too old and ill to work.
Circling, floating, who am I
but a vulture looking down.

Here’s a literal translation of the piece (or so I believe), found on

Nocturnal Reflections While Traveling

Gently grass soft wind shore
Tall mast alone night boat
Stars fall flat fields broad
Moon rises great river flows

Name not literary works mark
Official should old sick stop
Flutter flutter what place seem
Heaven earth one sand gull

My goal was to retain the mood, as I understand it, of the original, and to place it into my personal context. An interesting exercise.

27 thoughts on “Night Journey (after Tu Fu)

  1. Great poem. And really great how you used the original TuFu piece as the template but localize the elements while keeping the new version orbiting around what is the feeling at the poem’s center. Very cool.


  2. Spirit is everything. I do speak and read Chinese and occasionally experiment with writing English poems that capture the cadence of Chinese poems, but ultimately it’s the *feeling* the great Chinese poets created — their ability to bring the reader/listener into the unique space they’ve created, a product of time, nature, and experience — that inspires me. You did a wonderful job capturing that!


  3. Beautiful writing. I grew up in the countryside of North Georgia, and your poem felt like home. Long roads through nowhere, cow fields, woods. Your take on a Chinese poem is stunning.


  4. Very good. It’s a very worthwhile exercise. I tried a similar exercise a few years ago with the poetry of Bei Dao and although the results weren’t that good at the time I believe that it has helped to improve the structure of my writing. I like this. Like the original it is sparse and says no more than needs to be said.


  5. I like this, Robert. We have similar methods. I sometimes use Buddhist parables to help me create an outline for my short stories. It’s nice to see that others are working in this way.


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