The Way To Shu Is Hard

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Porter on the road to Shu

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The Way To Shu Is Hard
         Li Bai 699-762  
        Woe--! Phew--!
How Steep! How high!
The way to Shu is hard, 
harder than scaling the blue sky!
Princes Cancong and Yufu 
Opened up the land in the dim past.
Forty-eight thousand years since that time,
Sealed off from the frontier region of Qin !
On the west stands Great White Peak, 
with a bird track
Spanning across to the summit of Mount Emei.
Earth tottered, mountains crumbled, 
brave men perished, 
And then came stone hanging-bridges, 
sky-ascending ladders interlocked.
Above, the highest peak 
bounced the Six-Dragon chariot 
back to the sun;
Below, the gushing, churning torrents 
were also turn around.
Yellow swans cannot fly across,
And gibbons in despair give up their climbs.
How the Mud Mountain twists and turns!
Nine bends within a hundred steps, 
zigzagging up the precipice,
To where breathless, 
one can touch the stars Shen and Jing!
Beating my breast, 
I heave a long sigh and sit down.
May I ask when you expect to return, 
traveling so far west?
Terrifying rocks, 
inaccessible mountain peaks 
don't you try!
One would only see dismal birds 
howling in ancient woods
Where the female and the male 
fly around and around.
One would also hear cuckoos 
crying beneath the moon at night,
Filling the empty mountain with grief.
The way to Shu is hard, 
harder than scaling the blue sky;
Just hearing these words turns one's cheeks pale.
Peak upon peak less than a foot from the sky,
Where withered pines 
hang inverted from sheer cliffs,
Where cataracts and roaring torrents 
make noisy clamor,
Dashing upon rocks, 
a thunderclap from ten thousand glens.
A forbidding place like this--
I sigh and ask 
why anyone should undertake such a long journey.
There the Sword Peak stands erect and sharp:
With one man guarding the pass,
Ten thousand cannot break through.
Should those on guard prove untrustworthy,
They could have turned into leopards and wolves.
Mornings, stay away from fierce tigers;
Evenings, stay away from long snakes--
They gnash their fangs, suck human blood,
And maul people down like hemp.
The Brocade City  might be a place for pleasure,
But it's far better to hurry home.
The way to Shu is hard, 
harder than scaling the blue sky.
Sideways I look westward and heave a long sigh.
Shǔdào Nán
Translator: Charles Q. Wu 吳千之

Charles Wu writes; 'I dug up a translation of Li Bai's famous poem about the difficult roads in Sichuan and found the line that is clearly inspired by an earthquake situation: "Earth tottered, mountains crumbled, brave men perished." The poem gives a very vivid sense of the perilous terrain of Sichuan.'

Shu, the ancient name for Sichuan, was said to be ruled at one time by five brothers, the eldest being Cangcong and the third being Yufu. Having no language, the people lived in peace and had no contact with Qin until 311 B.C. --Lo.

Qin, the ancient kingdom that unified the Chinese empire in 221 B.C., was also the geographical name for present-day Shaanxi province. With Chang'an (present-day Xi'an) as its capital, Qin was then considered the center of China proper, with Shu (present-day Sichuan) to its south. --Wu
According to legend, a king of Qin promised five young women in marriage to the ruler of Shu, who sent five brave men to meet and escort the young women. On the way, they encountered a huge snake; and while they were fighting off the snake, mountains crumbled and all the party met death. The five women were transfored into five mountain peaks. --Lo.

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