The Peach Blossoms of Xuandu Temple

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The Peach Blossoms of Xuandu Temple
Liu Yuxi 772-842

Red dust from purple paths swirls before their faces
Everyone says they've been to see the flowers 
Thousands of peach trees at Xuandu Temple
And all of them planted since Mister Liu departed
Xuándū Guàn Táohuā
Liú Yúxī 772-842

Zǐ mò hóng chén fú miàn lái,
Wú rén bú dào kàn huā huí.
Xuándū Guān lǐ táo qiān shù,
Jìn shì Liú Láng qù hòu zāi.
Translator: Red Pine-Bill Porter 赤松

114. Liu Yu-hsi (772-842) was a native of Loyang and a prominent, though often banished, poet. He wrote this poem in 815, upon returning to Ch’ang-an after a ten-year banishment to Hunan for siding with the reform faction of Wang Shu-wen. The combination of allusions in this poem: the purple (i.e. royal) paths of the imperial city, the red dust (of illusion and sensory indulgence), the name of the temple (hsuan-tu – celestial capital), the thousands of officials promoted since his banishment, and the thinly-veiled reference to himself, together resulted in a second banishment. When he returned, he wrote the next poem after visiting the same temple and was banished for a third time. The Taoist temple to which he refers was just outside Ch’ang-an, and the people he meets are on their way back from going to see its blossoms. The peach trees were planted by the abbot after Liu’s earlier banishment. While “Mister Liu” is clearly a mask for the author, it ostensibly refers to Liu Ch’en, an herb collector who became lost in the Tientai Mountains and survived on peaches until he finally returned two hundred years later.

From the book Poems of the Masters, China's Classic Anthology of Tang and Song Dynasty verse. One of the best, if not "the best", books of general translations of Chinese poetry. Wonderfully detailed notes on each poem and all poems are displayed in the original Chinese.

Translated by Red Pine, published by Copper Canyon Press.

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