A EULOGY FOR LI-PO
"Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them.
Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams."
LAO TZU, TAO TE CHING
What's left of those long, honoured lines,
Those proud, most powerful potentates of ancient days?
Those ruthless rulers of the flower realm?
Time's swept their fame and might aside,
Like wrecked, lost leaves in dry, autumn wind.
Where are the gleaming courts, the glittering displays,
The chambers of the slender concubines,
The shining weapons of the warriors,
The scrolls of ever-honoured names?
Dust of the dust of the driest of plains.
And we, whose childhood's history
Is from beyond the farthest reaches
Of your most distant skyline's
Don't even know those rulers' names.
We cannot speak the singing signs.
We come upon the might of dynasties,
Brief-mentioned, as footnotes to your verses.
And since the great march of the peasants,
Why, even the proud, jade emperor of heaven
Is cloud-bound, whereabouts unknown.
But you, illustrious Li-Po,
Your spirit's craftwork lives on, for
Although the words are in another speech,
Your quiet thoughts at night,
Your cloudy, mountain paths,
And silent, lunar light,
Far waterfalls and swirling mists,
And journeys of the soul in upward flight;
Are supple with humanity__
So you still reach,
Through many scholars'
The hearing of the heart.
No petty emperor could claim
Such a travelled, shining fame.
Thus from another land,
I raise salute
Across the distances of seas and centuries.
Li-Po, you were right to call
The ones above your kin,
An immortal of heaven as maker of song,
Your body as enchanted breath: