Poems of Bai Juyi
Sick of Big Empty Streets, in Two Parts (Part 1)
In my heart, I keep the Way.
Things of this world, I mostly keep at bay.
Mostly, I can handle what breaks the heart.
I'm not the type to sit around and sigh.
Suddenly, news of death in the big empty streets.
Unconsciously, life's colors change.
Sadness begins, arriving from the east,
Touching me and saddening my heart.
Back before I'd really had a friend,
I met him travelling. He was leaning on a tower.
We stayed together at Li Ao's house.
We spoke as if we'd always known each other.
Fully drunk, he came to see me off.
Snow blew hard north of Yellow River.
A full day to the west, we rode together
And parted only as the daylight failed.
He turned back westward, into Zheng.
I went on wandering into the next kingdom.
We were friends who wouldn't see each other
After that. I've often thought of him again.
I loved the way he quoted Master Kong
Although his knowledge of the Book of Songs was weak.
He'd worn the same dark coat for fifty years.
A failed scholar without official pay.
He only left behind a thousand poems,
Full of meaning and without mistake.
They lie now, scattered, in his tomb
And who will bring them to the light again?
I think we've caught Bai Juyi in a Chan Buddhist moment. Daoists may keep their heart like cold, dead ashes. But when you die, they're likely to sit around your coffin, banging on a pot and singing rude songs. Bai Juyi was a waffler when it came to religion.
This poem was written by 815 because that's when part two of this work was written. I think this may have been written much earlier. Of course, his friend may have died in the violence that inspired part two. But poor old poets don't often die in the wars. Maybe he starved in the turbulence of the times.
I think Bai Juyi wrote this as a private poem. He never names the friend he's lost.