Thinking Of The Past
Bai Juyi (772-846), Chinese poet
translated by Arthur Waley (1889-1966), British scholar

In an idle hour I thought of former days;
And former friends seemed to be standing in the room.
And then I wondered “Where are they now?”
Like fallen leaves they have tumbled to the Nether Springs.
Han YŁ swallowed his sulphur pills,
Yet a single illness carried him straight to the grave.
YŁan Chen smelted autumn stone
But before he was old, his strength crumbled away.
Master Tu possessed the “Secret of Health”:
All day long he fasted from meat and spice.
The Lord Ts‘ui, trusting a strong drug,
Through the whole winter wore his summer coat.
Yet some by illness and some by sudden death . . .
All vanished ere their middle years were passed.

Only I, who have never dieted myself
Have thus protracted a tedious span of age,
I who in young days
Yielded lightly to every lust and greed;
Whose palate craved only for the richest meat
And knew nothing of bismuth or calomel.
When hunger came, I gulped steaming food;
When thirst came, I drank from the frozen stream.
With verse I served the spirits of my Five Guts;
With wine I watered the three Vital Spots.
Day by day joining the broken clod
I have lived till now almost sound and whole.
There is no gap in my two rows of teeth;
Limbs and body still serve me well.
Already I have opened the seventh book of years;
Yet I eat my fill and sleep quietly;
I drink, while I may, the wine that lies in my cup,
And all else commit to Heaven’s care.

from More Translations from the Chinese (1919)

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