Home > 1. Famous Poems > Du Fu–“From the Watchtower”

Du Fu–“From the Watchtower”



I first heard about Du Fu (712-770) from a poetry buddy of mine, a wandering troubadour. As I started to read his work in translation, I found his words a bit journalistic–and certainly different from the work of other T’ang Dynasty Chinese poets. On reflection, that makes sense: Du Fu is by common consent the best poet China has ever produced. In a poetic tradition as rich as China’s, that is no small honor, and translating a poet as gifted as Du Fu into English requires no small skill (and plain old patience and luck).

A reputation like that is hard for RT to resist, so below I’m posting a first attempt at translating one of Du Fu’s pieces, written towards the end of his life.


From the Watch Tower


Time’s ovation, the year decamps to autumn–

frost, then snow, gleams in the immense night.

Bugles blare, summoning a profane regiment,

and men fall in; stars climb above the heights.


Now sobbing fills the gorge as battle rages,

mingled with raucous song, exultation in death.

Our armies, crouching dragon and leaping horse, crumble–

scatter our words on water; in silence, a depth.


Copyright: 2012, The Rag Tree


Image: Landscapes Inspired by Du Fu’s Poetry, Wang Shamin (1592-1680); WikiCmns; Public Domain


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