Treasure Island

Tu Fu

(712-770 / Gong County / China)

Ballad of the Old Cypress


In front of the temple of Chu-ko Liang there is an old cypress. Its branches
are like green bronze; its roots like rocks; around its great girth of forty
spans its rimy bark withstands the washing of the rain. Its jet-colored top
rises two thousand feet to greet the sky. Prince and statesman have long since
paid their debt to time; but the tree continues to be cherished among men. When
the clouds come, continuous vapors link it with the mists of the long Wu
Gorge; and when the moon appears, the cypress tree shares the chill of the
Snowy Mountains' whiteness.
I remember a year or so ago, where the road wound east round my Brocade
River pavilion, the First Ruler and Chu-ko Liang shared the same shrine. There,
too, were towering cypresses, on the ancient plain outside the city. The paint-
work of the temple's dark interior gleamed dully through derelict doors and
windows. But this cypress here, though it holds its ground well, clinging with
wide-encompassing, snake-like hold, yet, because of its lonely height rising
into the gloom of the sky, meets much of the wind's fierce blast. Nothing but
the power of Divine Providence could have kept it standing for so long; its
straightness must be the work of the Creator himself! If a great hall had
collapsed and beams for it were needed, ten thousand oxen might turn their
heads inquiringly to look at such a mountain of a load. But it is already
marvel enough to astonish the world, without any need to undergo a craftsman's
embellishing. It has never refused the axe: there is simply no one who could
carry it away if it were felled. Its bitter heart has not escaped the ants; but
there are always phoenixes roosting in its scented leaves. Men of ambition, and
you who dwell unseen, do not cry out in despair! From of old the really great
has never been found a use for

Submitted: Saturday, May 26, 2001

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