Our Fathers, Who Are in the Heavens: A Response to Li Qingzhao’s “Immortal on the Riverbank”

“The price of granting the reality of change is to grant nothingness a kind of reality also,”
Peter Pesic, Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy and Literature

Nothing more seeming fragile than the snow,
Yet there exists a single, tiny flake
Condensed from mist ten thousand years ago,
Deep, deep, deep within a melting glacier,
Slowly, surely grinding the mountains down,
Inevitable as our frail fathers
Falling into their final silences,
Each death a solitary, unique loss,
A slow accumulation of nothing,
Perhaps the surest sign we yet have seen
In this our shared dream of humanity,
This ceaseless sweeping away of the dust,
The dust that gave life to the dust we are
Returning to the self-consuming stars.

In Memoriam Robert E. Lavery, 1928-2015

Depth Charge: It seems my friends and I are entering into that stage of life where our fathers are leaving en masse.

Tune: “Immortal On The Riverbank”
To the Plum Blossom
By Li Qingzhao

Deep, how profoundly deep the courtyard is!
Spring comes late to these casements and terraces
Buried in mists and clouds.
For whom do you pine away, 0 Flower!
And lose your lovely looks quite
When but last night I dreamed-
How sweet and vivid that dream-
Your southern branches were bursting into bloom?

That you should be frail as jade
And your boughs lose much of their crimson sweetness
As though weighed down with infinite sorrow!
Away with that Tartar flute in the South Tower
Blowing away your rich perfume
Nobody knows whither,
And let the days lengthen
When balmy breezes blow.
But do stay till the apricot blossoms round out!

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.


Lín jiāng xiān·Méi·Lǐ Qīngzhào
Tíngyuàn shēn shēn shēn jǐxǔ, yún chuāng wù gé chūn chí. Wèi shuí qiáocuì sǔn fāng zī, yèlái qīng mèng hǎo, yīng shì fā nán zhī.
Yù shòu tán qīng wúxiàn hèn, nán lóu qiāng guǎn xiū chuī. Nóng xiāng chuī jìn yǒu shuí zhī, nuǎn fēng chí rì yě, bié dào xìng huāféi.

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