Biography Of West Lake (By Li Jin) Poem by Denis Mair

Biography Of West Lake (By Li Jin)

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by Li Jin
(translated by Denis Mair)

...Not just any scenery deserves to be called West Lake

From here north connected to the Yellow River, southward linked to the Yangtze, only West Lake
Has been preserved up to today [1]
Like someone's homeland, like the workings of fate, like a fortunate encounter
Slightly heavier than transitory eras, slightly lower than water lilies, moistening and ever-clean

I extended downward from North China's plain. The native plants of North China
Have lost their attachment to me, gone over to the bleak arms of autumn
Into the arms of transience. Time's expanse of light-and-shade
Has room for me, yet has no more room for my watery roadways
At this present moment, roads negotiate each other's growth
And extend themselves. Roads are not everything, but they are part of life
They feel pain, they have starting points and end points
They have penetrating edges, aimed at the future and past; only at West Lake
Can I pull away and find seclusion, let futility be smoothed by ripples

From when I first came on the scene, West Lake possessed a nurturing heart

In a certain year B.C., First Qin Emperor passed Danyang, reached Qiantang River, viewed scenes of Zhejiang, at a time when waters were foul
In my chest are waters fouler than a hundred stormy miles of Dongting Lake. From here downstream
Qiantang River overreached itself; it overcame the legendary flood-tamer, overcame the Great Canal
Holding the sweep of years in its lap, going hand-to-hand with passing days
But time played no favorites: that excess of dazzling waves was put in its place
Converted to watery currency, to give all drifting things a yonder shore
A native place for all, a heartland
Where all living things could withdraw to, and all have something of me
Creeping up on them this morning, a West Lake to call their own

Water is the stuff of time. On banks of West Lake, history is summed up in a word
But this cannot be done for scenery
Not just any scenery deserves to be called West Lake
In this six-square-kilometer watery realm are two towers, one mountain, three islands, two dikes
Watching emptily over five lakelets, [2] all living in wind-tossed waves
Yet at rest in stillness
At rest in an old domain... egrets glide in afterglow past autumn's long horizon
At rest amid sightseers on the bank, promenading in the halcyon times
Of a nation, passing time amid declivities of lakeside bluffs and streams

West Lake's benign heart nurtured Yue Fei, Su Shi, Yu Qian, Marco Polo, and the Mad Monk Jidian [3]
It gathered in Qin Kuai [4] and Fa Hai [5]
With countless rising, dipping byways through stream-fed glens in the fall
Here I do not reckon with heart-chilling autumn, I only borrow the lake's water
To acquaint myself with living, breathing couples
And with myself...through meetings and partings over months and years

West Lake is good at seeing things as they are, good for recalling someone, good for leaning into the years amid mist and rain
For seeing a city advance or withdraw at will, for seeing a massive wave of prosperity
No longer content with brushwood gates or boatmen's nets. At West Lake I have seen
A water-bird take flight from Leifeng Tower
A young man and woman sprouting greenly amid willows
In this era, I make out a portion of the true picture: all of us appear
On a backdrop of misty waves, each an inalienable part of West Lake

As I depart, small boats are loosed to the depths of West Lake

[1] West Lake is the sole remnant of a network of waterways that once connected the Yellow River and Yangtze River watersheds, by way of the Great Canal and tributaries of the Qiantang River.
[2] The five lakelets (sections)of West Lake are Wai-Xihu, Li-Xihu, Beili-hu, Xiao-nanhu and Yue-hu.
[3] Jidian (1148-1209) , meaning "Crazy Ji, " was an eccentric monk who lived in Hangzhou's Lingyin Monastery during the Southern Song era. His crazy-sounding utterances always contained a grain of wisdom. He was often asked to arbitrate in civil disputes, in which he stood up for oppressed. He was beloved by common folk of the Hangzhou area, and tales about his deeds were handed down in the book BIOGRAPHY OF MASTER JI.
[4] Qin Kuai (1090-1155)has historically been reviled as the representative figure of the appeasement faction at the Southern Song court. He advocated giving land and tribute payments to the northern Jin (Jurchen)tribes in exchange for peace. He ostracized and undermined generals like Yue Fei who wanted to attack the Jin. His grave (located on the grounds of Yue Fei's shrine beside West Lake)is reviled by visitors to this day.
[5] Fa-hai is a character in the popular folktale titled "Tale of the White Snake." He is a monk who suspects Maid Alba (Bai-niangzi)of being a demoness in disguise. When the young scholar Xu Xian falls in love with Alba, Fahai persuades Xu to stay in a monastery and prepare for examinations. Fahai tries his utmost to keep the two young sweethearts apart; later he exposes Alba's identity as a white snake-spirit. After overcoming her in a contest of magical powers, he imprisons her under Leifeng Tower. In tales about "White Snake Maiden, " folklorists discern traces of an ancient cult of snake worship in the Hangzhou area.

Saturday, July 28, 2018
Topic(s) of this poem: historical,scenic,water
This poem will be included in an anthology of poems about West Lake in Hangzhou. West Lake has traditionally been a gathering place for literati, and it has deep cultural and historical reserves. The Sung-era poet Su Dongpo was governor here, as was the Tang poet Bai Juyi. It also happens to be where I had my honeymoon! This poem demonstrates how a geographical site can become a focus for poetic activity. From ancient times to the present, Chinese poets love to contemplate a landscape from many angles.
Bharati Nayak 29 July 2018

In this era, I make out a portion of the true picture: all of us appear On a backdrop of misty waves, each an inalienable part of West Lake - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - As I depart, small boats are loosed to the depths of West Lake. What a beautiful write- - - -

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tom billsborough 29 July 2018

There are so many facets to this beautiful poem and I am mesmerised by the quality of the writing and the interesting details of characters, scenes and events. A beautiful kaleidoscope, One of my favourite poems.

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