A Song of an old Cypress Poem by Du Fu

Du Fu (Also known as Tu Fu; 712 – 770) was a prominent Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty. This post features A Song of an old Cypress Poem by Du Fu.

Along with Li Bai (Li Po), he is frequently called the greatest of the Chinese poets. His greatest ambition was to serve his country as a successful civil servant, but he proved unable to make the necessary accommodations. His life, like the whole country, was devastated by the An Lushan Rebellion of 755, and his last 15 years were a time of almost constant unrest.

A Song of an old Cypress Poem by Du Fu
A Song of an old Cypress Poem by Du Fu

A Song of an old Cypress Poem by Du Fu

Beside the Temple of the Great Premier stands an ancient cypress
With a trunk of green bronze and a root of stone.
The girth of its white bark would be the reach of forty men
And its tip of kingfish-blue is two thousand feet in heaven.
Dating from the days of a great ruler’s great statesman,
Their very tree is loved now and honoured by the people.

Clouds come to it from far away, from the Wu cliffs,
And the cold moon glistens on its peak of snow.
…East of the Silk Pavilion yesterday I found
The ancient ruler and wise statesman both worshipped in one temple,
Whose tree, with curious branches, ages the whole landscape
In spite of the fresh colours of the windows and the doors.

And so firm is the deep root, so established underground,
That its lone lofty boughs can dare the weight of winds,
Its only protection the Heavenly Power,
Its only endurance the art of its Creator.
Though oxen sway ten thousand heads, they cannot move a mountain.

…When beams are required to restore a great house,
Though a tree writes no memorial, yet people understand
That not unless they fell it can use be made of it….
Its bitter heart may be tenanted now by black and white ants,
But its odorous leaves were once the nest of phoenixes and pheasants.

…Let wise and hopeful men harbour no complaint.
The greater the timber, the tougher it is to use.

– Du Fu

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