Poems of Bai Juyi
Bamboo Branches Song
Mouth of Qutang Gorge. River mists hang low.
Gates of White God City. Moon is moving west.
Song of Bamboo Branches catches in my throat.
Gibbons and dark birds cry in the night.
Bamboo Branches' bitter resentment. But for whom?
A peaceful night in these empty hills. Again I hear
Miao women lift their voices all together of
How on River Tower they are worried sick about you.
Big Sichuan river boats moving east to west against
strong current, heavy wind, and a pounding rain.
Water pepper blooming. Great masses of red.
Wet leaves of the river herb. Cold, cold jade.
Who is singing Bamboo Branches by the riverside?
Nearer voices suddenly stop. Farther ones arrive too late.
Strange how bitter music has found an old, sad verse
And how all through this province it is sung.
It is 819 and Bai Juyi is briefly posted to Chongzhou, deep in Sichuan. Apparently, the Miao women of Sichuan have picked up an old Han lyric called Bamboo Branches and put it to music. They must have been singing it in Xunyang where Bai Juyi was posted before. That's in eastern Sichuan. Now he's in western Sichuan and they sing it here too.