Du Fu’s poem Facing Snow was written in the winter of 755 after the rebel capture of Chang’an, eastern capital of the Tang Dynasty. Du Fu took his family to safety and then was captured by the rebels and taken to Chang’an. He witnessed first-hand the horror of the An Lushan Rebellion before escaping south the following summer.
War cries and legions of ghosts.
An old man fretfully chants
A misty chaos and half twilight
Snow dances in a swirling wind
A languishing ladle with no wine or green tea
A cold furnace, once fiery red
Men whisper, what news.
While I brood on my empty book
Face à la neige
Cris de guerre et plus fantômes.
Un vieillard chante avec inquiétude
Dans le chaos de la brume et le demi-crépuscule
Danse de neige dans le vent tourbillonnant
Une louche négligé sans vin ni thé
Un four vide, pas rouge vif
Les hommes chuchotent, quelles nouvelles.
Alors que je rêve sur mon livre vide
Blick auf den Wind
Krieg schreit und Legionen von Geistern.
Ein alter Mann fragt sich gern
Ein Demi-Chaos und Halbdämmerung
Schnee tanzt in wirbelnden Wind
Eine unsichtbare Pfanne ohne Wein oder grüner Tee
Ein leerer Ofen, nicht feurigrot
Männer flüstern, was Neues
Während auf meinem leeren Buch ich starre und brühe
Notes on the Translations
Language is nuanced by time and culture. Its meaning subtle and mysterious. Thus translating can be a winding path through a dark forest. Even the title of Du Fu’s poem, Facing the Wind gives me pause. Why not a the stronger image of Facing the Snow?
Wind is the better choice. Du Fu conveys his thoughts on two levels. One is visual imagery, the other is metaphor. Captured by the enemy and held in Chang’an, Du Fu must answer for his actions once he escapes. While snow symbolizes the hardships of the winter, wind becomes a metaphor for the swirling accusations that inevitably would be made at court once Du Fu arrived to make his report.
Du Fu was forgiven for his temporary sojourn with the enemy. Others, like his friend Li Bai were not so fortunate.