Two translations


by Du Fu (712-770 C.E.)

A breeze stirs the small grass
as the night ferry’s tall mast floats by.

Stars stretch above the endless steppe,
moon bobs in the river’s sluggish current.

My name as a man of letters – how can it last?
My post – I’m old & sick enough to quit.

Drifting, drifting, what kind of life is this?
Caught between earth & sky, a solitary gull.



anonymous Pima Indian, 20th century

Shining Water lies
Shining Water lies
Mudhen goes wandering through it

come & see
how gracefully
he floats

An expanse of muddy water
for me to circle

laced with the greenest algae
arrayed in zigzags

it pleases me so much I pluck a strand
wind it around my head
encircle myself

My heart turns giddy
I wander in a daze
ai-ya my heart
an unbearable feeling
running toward this toward that
an unbearable feeling

A wind springs up
& carries me off
sets me down in the distant Place of Reeds

there the wind runs through
with a flute-like sound

there where songs are kept
forever fresh

Do you hear me do you hear me
the land everywhere resounding

dance on it

blow gently over it

a piece of eagle down
a wisp of cloud

go in


The Pima (Akimel O’odham) songs are my versions, based upon two sets of English translations – one word-for-word, the other slightly freer – in Ants and Orioles: Showing the Art of Pima Poetry, by Donald Bahr, Lloyd Paul and Vincent Joseph. Bahr’s detailed commentary gives the patient reader sufficient tools to turn his transliterations into something resembling poetry, although his identifications of plants and animals are often suspect, according to Gary Paul Nabhan (Cross-Pollinations).

The anonymous composers of these songs credited their inspiration to the spirits of the ants. The versions translated by Bahr et. al. were sung by Andy Stepp and Claire Seota on the Salt River Reservation, Arizona, 1972.

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