Jacopone da Todi: And it made me silent
Górecki, Polish folk song: Where has he gone, my dearest son?

Petrarch and Mao Zedong: Broken is the High Column; The Immortals


Broken is the high column

Broken is the high column and the green laurel
that made a shade for my weary thought;
I have lost what I do not hope to find again
from the far north to the far south,
from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.
Death, you have taken my double treasure from me,
that made me live happy and walk haughtily.
Neither earth nor empire can restore it
nor oriental jewel nor force of gold.
But since Fate consented to this,
what more can I do than have a sad soul,
wet eyes forever, and a bent head ?
O our life that is so beautiful to see,
how you lose quickly in a morning
what you acquired with great pains over many years!

       --Petrarch (1304-1374)

Rotta è l’alta colonna e’l verde lauro
che facean ombra al mio stanco pensero
perduto o quel che ritrovar non spero
dal borrea a l'austro, o dal mar indo al mauro.
Tolto m'ai, Morte, il mio doppio thesauro,
che mi fea viver lieto et gire altero,
et ristorar nol po terra ne impero,
ne gemma oriental, ne forza d'auro.
Ma se consentimento e di destino,
che posso io piu, se no aver l'alma trista,
humidi gli occhi sempre, e 'l viso chino?
O nostra vita ch'e si bella in vista,
com perde agevolmente in un matino
quel che 'n molti anni a gran pena s'acquista!

From Sedulia: Petrarch was talking about his patron Cardinal Colonna and his great love, Laura, who both died in 1348 in the great plague. The next poem reminds me in its beginning of Petrarch’s poem. It is a famous poem in China because of its author.


Reply to Li Shuyi  [The Immortals]

(to the tune of “Die Lian Hua”)

I lost my proud poplar, you your willow,
Poplar and willow soar to the Ninth Heaven.
They ask Wu Gang what he has,
He brings out a cassia wine.

The lonely moon goddess shakes out her wide sleeves,
in the vast infinite emptiness she dances for the faithful souls.
Suddenly it is reported that on earth the tiger has been caught.
Tears fly like heavy rain.

May 11, 1957

--Mao Zedong (1893-1976)



吴刚 捧出桂花洒。



Da Li Shuyi

Wo shi jiao yang jun shi liu,
yang liu qing yang zhi shang zhong xiao jiu.
wen xun Wu Gang he suo you,
Wu Gang ju chu gui hua jiu.

Kou mo Chang E shu kuang xiu,
wan li chang kong qie wei zhong hun wu.
Hu bao ren jian ceng fu hu,
lei fei dun zuo qing pen yu.

Mao’s young wife Yang Kaihui was executed by the Guomindang in 1930 in front of her 8-year-old son, refusing to denounce her husband. Li Shuyi’s husband Liu had also been killed by the Guomindang. Yang means Poplar; Liu means Willow. Wu Gang is the woodcutter servant of Chang E, the moon goddess. He has the Sisyphean task of cutting down a constantly regrowing cassia tree. The guihuais supposedly translated by “sweet osmanthus” but I think Mao is referring to the cassia tree because of the legend.

Later, from Sedulia:
Since I first published this post I have read Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and I feel ambivalent about leaving up Mao's poem. He was an evil man, at least at the end, and Jung Chang makes the case that he did not try to rescue Kaihui even though he was nearby, partly because he had taken another wife; but he was a good poet. In fact, he is generally considered one of the best poets in modern Chinese. So I will leave it up. The poem is very well known in China.


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