POEM: THE BOATMAN’S FLUTE
Today there is no wind on the Yangtze;
the water is calm and green
with no waves or ripples.
All around the boat
light floats in the air
over a thousand acres of smooth, lustrous jade.
One of the boatmen wants to break the silence.
High on wine, he picks up his flute
and plays into the mist.
The clear music rises to the sky –
an ape in the mountains
screaming at the moon;
a creek rushing through a gully.
Someone accompanies on the sheepskin drum,
his head held steady as a peak,
his fingers beating like rain drops.
A fish breaks the crystal surface of the water
And leaps ten feet into the air.
From Yang Wan-li Heaven my Blanket: Earth my Pillow: Poems from Sung Dynasty China New York & Tokyo: Weatherall, 1975 (Translated and introduced by Jonathan Chaves)
Yang Wan-li (1127-1206) was a scholar-bureaucrat and poet of Sung Dynasty China, a period of history during which some of the most treasured masterpieces of Chinese art and literature were created. Yet this culture was vulnerable. Northern China was occupied by Jurchen nomads, and the Southern Sung’s base in Hangchow is described in Chaves’ introduction as “a refuge of elegant solitude from which they gazed longingly toward the north … in this quiet setting they were able to enjoy the beauties of bird, rock and stream”. The Boatman’s Flute chooses a natural setting, a scene on a great river, to capture a musical moment.
Yang Wan-li’s work is also presented at: https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/reflection-on-chinese-poetry/