A Little Dab of Little Du

In our last issue of the Tang Spirit newsletter (several months ago already)  we ventured to translate the Heart Sutra.  At first we worried some of our readers might take offense at our clumsy secular rendition of a sacred text.  But quite the contrary, it seems to have been one of our more popular efforts to date, drawing more email response than we customarily receive.  We truly appreciate hearing from our readers since it's the only recompense we get.  And we were particularly pleased to receive an email from Phil, a new subscriber in Asia and student of sanskrit, who shared with us a companion text to the Heart Sutra, of slightly more modern origin.

As Phil wrote to us:  In the spirit of lightness (for I know the Buddha had a tremendous sence of humor), I offer you my conclusion to the Starbucks Suttra:

Latte, latte,
Double soy latte,


text break

With this issue we return to our our more usual fare with new translations of three poems by Du Mu, a poet of the late Tang period, whose work I have been enjoying and translating over the last few months.  Sometimes known as Little Du (to distinguish him from his immediate predecessor Du Fu), many of his poems have a somber or metaphysical cast,  even though his style remains very down to earth and accessible.

For starters I’ve chosen 3 of Du Mu’s poems with an autumnal theme – ranging from the literal to more metaphoric – which I hope will provide you a good sense of the range of his verse.

Autumn Evening on the River

A solitary boat
On the horizon’s edge
Charting a distant course 
To the vanishing point itself

Heartsick and poor
On this endless journey
The spirit dreams of home
And its many kindred

The cicadas chant
From trees brushed
With vivid color and the crows
Clamor in the sands
Of the setting sun

Without a plan
In his head
A man takes his chances
In the splendor of passing years






I've taken some liberty in translating the title of this next poem - literally Taking Leave of Master Shen.  Instead, I've used the first line from the poem, which I think lends it a more Shakespearean flavor.

What's Done is Done

What’s done is done
A ragged dream
What’s still to come
Lies on the road ahead
Winding into autumn

Old friends unseen
But remembered
Time brings us
To a sacred place
A tower facing east






An Accidental Theme

The Way through
The human state of things
May be transmitted by verse

When we’re young
We tread light and easy
But that changes with
The coming years

Today finds us embarking
On a long ocean voyage
Raised on the waves
And buoyant with hope

Not yet arrived
At the Island of Peng Lai
Still short of those Immortal
Shores it seems






One final textual note - the reference to Peng Lai in the final stanza of this last poem - this is an Island located not far off the shore of Mainland China where Immortal spirits resided.  Its exact location remains uncertain although it is believed to be not far from present day Kinmen and Matsu.


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Thanks and best regards, in the Tang Spirit --

Joe Lamport (formerly known as Lan Hua)
October 2013

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The Tang Spirit web site has been developed as a joint effort by Joe Lamport and Steve Zhang. Our goal is to help preserve and promote the spirit of Tang poetry. Whether you are new to Tang poetry or already an enthusiast, a student of Chinese or a lover of poetry, we hope you'll visit our site and find something of interest there.