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Pascale Petit Four poems

Du Fu (712–70) is considered by many Chinese to be their greatest poet. My translation of his poem ‘Ballad of the Old Cypress’ is indebted to David Hawkes’ A Little Primer of Tu Fu where the author provides transliterations and prose translations of thirty-five of Du Fu’s poems taken from the anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems. I wanted to convey the visionary grandeur of the original, how the cypress becomes a cosmic tree. My poem is halfway between a fairly faithful free verse translation (as far as I can tell since I don’t speak Mandarin and the original is in intricately formal Tang Dynasty Chinese) and a version; my main aim was to capture the expansive spirit of the poem. Du Fu wrote this while staying at the entrance of the Yangtze Three Gorges for two years, homesick for his thatched hut in Chengdu. The tree in Kongming’s temple was considered dead but had suddenly started to resprout. Like this translation, which grew from my travels in China, my poems ‘Machapuchere (Fishtail Mountain)’ and ‘Creation of the Himalayas’ arose from travels in Nepal. On a trek in the Annapurnas I only got as far as Remember Lodge because that day a landslide destroyed the bridge over Modi River and obliterated the trail ahead. I climbed through monsoon, then just before nightfall the sun came out and this sacred and unclimbable

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