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In the battle’s aftermath, many spirits cry,
Alone, an old man hums his worrisome chant.
Confusion sets in amid the clouds at dusk,
A violent snow dances in the swirling wind

There lies an abandoned ladle and an empty green jug,
But the stove still looks fiery red.
With bad news from many places
I sit in grief, but cannot read my books

Winter 757

Imagine, it is the winter of 757, Chang’an, Shanxi province, China in the age of the Tang dynasty..

General An Lushan and his rebel army, having begun a revolt against the Tang dynasty in December of 756, have, by now, taken Chang’an, the Tang capital. The defeated Emperor Xuanzong has fled to Sichuan. The poet Du Fu has taken his family to safety, but now, trying to reach Sichuan, he is captured by rebel forces, and taken back to Chang’an.

You are left behind in the devastated Tang capital of Chang’an. For months, the rebel forces have pillaged and looted. Long caravans are hauling away the loot to the North.

You are Chinese poet Du Fu, 45 years old, now left to face enemy and the snow alone. And in this cold and empty place, he cannot read his books.

Meanwhile, back in the USA

Here in the Midwest, we are facing a terrifically cold winter weather system. The blowing snow and bitter cold make for dangerous conditions. The weather has been unusually cold in February of 2021. Even Dallas, Texas has experienced 0 degree weather, along with rolling black outs as the demand for energy rises.

Perhaps not as cold as China’s Shaanxi province, where the Tang capital Chang’an was located. Nor as cold as the three Chinese states — Pinglu, Fanyang and Hedong, north of Chang’an, north of the Yangtze, bordering Mongolia, where General An Lushan was military commander.

Temperatures there,. in January and February, dip down below zero into double digits, which is what we are now experiencing. The wind too is unusually strong, and the falling snow when swirling is quite a sight.

Here in the Midwest, for two days, the clouds filled the sky. The wind whipped up the snow, not quite a blizzard but close. Not a creature stirred outside. Then, yesterday, the sun came back, there was no wind, and the squirrels scrambled down from their nest in the large oak tree outside my window to look for sunflower seeds that I had left for the birds.

My water pipes had burst and I had to resort to melting snow. My predicament lasted only a day.

Du Fu’s predicament reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode Time Enough to Last* (1959). This black and white episode starred Burgess Meredith as a much heckled bank teller and bookworm who couldn’t get enough time to read. In the aftermath of a nuclear war, he finds himself in a bank vault and the only one left on the planet.

Now he has time enough to read, but in a moment of happiness, he drops his glasses and steps on them, and is left bereft and full of grief.

Meanwhile, in 8th century Britain

The Roman empire collapsed in the 5th century and Britain, as well as most of Europe, entered the Dark Ages. Dark because there is little literature to explain what was going on and what people were thinking.

Take for example the life of King Offa who ruled from 757 until his death in 796. But nothing down of him, and little remains but a few coins and Offa’s Dyke.

We do have the works of the Venerable Bede, but most of his works are religious, and many of these are lost. Ballads were told in the Saxon Great Halls, but these were oral. Beowulf, a Norse tale, can be dated within a three hundred year span, from 700 AD to 1000 AD. Fortunately for us, it was then written down with some Christian add-ons. A century later King Alfred the Great caused the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles to be written and history was saved.

This is not to say that those who lived in 8th century Britain did not experience emotions similar to Du Fu. Between the fussing and feuding, and barely surviving, they had good days and bad, experiencing both joy and grief. I would refer those interested to check out The Wanderer and The Ruin, whose writing predates the Norman Invasion, but by how much, is unknown.

Notes on Translations

The title 对雪, duì xuě, in English becomes Facing the Snow, or Snowstorm. It is an obvious euphemism for facing one’s difficulties. The snow, a reference to General An Lushan, whose rebel forces came from the cold snowy North.

The early part of the rebellion went badly for the Tang forces. Defeat followed defeat, tens of thousands of soldiers died. Millions of citizens were displaced. Ghosts roamed the battlefields and an old man, Du Fu, made his worrisome chant. Du Fu followed Buddhism, but he must have felt confused and lost, trying to make his way between the competing forces. He was no more than a single snowflake caught up in the maelstrom, blown about, dancing in the wind.

Tang dynasty, 8th century AD, three-color green glaze wine vessel – exhibited in Matsuoka Museum of Art, image from Wikipedia

The fifth line,. 瓢弃尊无绿, piáo qì zūn wú lǜ, literally translates as “abandoned ladle, nothing in the green wine jug”. To abandon the ladle is to give up all sense of civilized behavior. Zun (尊) is the wine vessel. Its color is green lǜ, 绿 being the most highly prized color, a sign of status. By implication, the capital is empty of members of the royal court. Compare Du Fu’s line with the Chinese idiom, wú yōu wú lǜ, 无忧无虑 , without worries and care free, a French or Spanish, “Comme Ci, Comme Ça.” Compare lǜle lǜle, 绿了, 虑了, are you green are you worried? In Du Fu’s case, the well known imbiber of wine is not so worried that he must drink without a lad.e, but that the pot of wine is empty.

Line six, wait the fire is still going and seems to be red, hóng 红, a sign of joy and one to ward off evil demons.

Line seven, shù zhōu, 数州, literally, several states, referring to the several Chinese provinces fending for themselves against the rebel forces. One either gets the sense of “no news,” 消息, xiāo xī, or that the news is “decidedly bad,” 断, duàn, which implies that Du Fu is cut off from events elsewhere.

Du Fu’s coup de grâce

Du Fu’s ending twist, his coup de grâce, in that cold and empty place, is like that which befalls Burgess Meredith’s character, he cannot read his books!

Chinese and Pinyin




duì xuě

zhàn kū duō xīn guǐ
chóu yín dú lǎo wēng
luàn yún dī bó mù
jí xuě wǔ huí fēng

piáo qì zūn wú lǜ
lú cún huǒ sì hóng
shù zhōu xiāo xī duàn
chóu zuò zhèng shū kōng

  • Adapted from a short story written by Lynn Venable in January 1953 for the science fiction magazine If: Worlds of Science Fiction.


杜甫 〔唐代〕












This poem was written when Du Fu was forced to live in a lonely city during the fall of An Shi Rebellion. The poem was titled “Snow”, but it was just when national enemies and family hatreds came together. The state affairs withered because of plain drawing; It’s not because of the snow, it’s not just because of the self injury. It describes the dilemma and helplessness of the whole situation from the perspective of an individual encounter. Du Fu, known as the “history of poetry”, can integrate his personal feelings into the general background of the current situation and national affairs, from worrying about himself to worrying about the country. Therefore, his poetry is deep in realm, large in pattern, far in artistic conception and rich in charm. Therefore, this poem starts with “more new ghosts crying in war” and ends with “breaking news in several states”. It has the editing characteristics of movie scripts. Through personal experience, it reflects the sad and difficult state of the war in the whole current situation from the details and sides. From this point of view, Fang is looking at the method of this poem.
In one or two lines of this poem, “there are many new ghosts crying in battle”, which highlights this painful fact. Fang Guan was defeated, and there was no hope to recover Chang’an for the time being. He could not help but add a layer of sadness to the poet, and he could not freely confide in others. So the last sentence uses the word “many” to see the heavy heart; The next sentence, “Mourning the old man alone”, uses the word “alone” to see the dangerous environment.
“The clouds are low in the dusk, and the sharp snow dances back to the wind.” Write the topic on the front. First write about the clouds in the dusk, and then write about the whirling snow in the whirlwind. In this way, the “right” character in the title is displayed, which implies that the poet sits alone in the den and repeatedly worries, from the chaos of clouds and the desire for snow to the swift snow and the wind. He is full of sadness, as if he were intertwined with the cold weather.
“Disregard the ladle without green, and keep the fire red.” If there is no green, you can sell wine and then abandon it. Holding the stove to warm the fire is just like red. It is very simple, almost dry and plain. Behind it, there is an implied dilemma that there is no wine in the city and carbon is scarce. This is probably what people who read Du Fu’s poems do not want to see. However, in the context of describing the overall situation, the most straightforward and realistic approach to personal circumstances is the most powerful means to reflect the overall situation through details and individual realism. Two sentences show that there is a shortage of materials in the trapped city, and the dilemma of living in the spare time. There are many solutions to the doubt about the word “like”. But in fact, this means that there is a furnace but the fire is not strong, and the fire is not rising, just a red light, so there is no need to do more troubleshooting. Because of trouble, I will think of salvation. However, the good news that the author can hope for has never come from anywhere. The news in several states is broken, and the author is worried about nothing. Finally, he returned his personal feelings to the worries about the current situation of the war, completing a process of one-sided description and exclamation about the overall situation of historical facts.
“The news is broken in several states, but the book is empty.” The poet comes down to his concern about the current situation. From 756 to 757, the war between the Tang Dynasty and Anlushan, Shi Siming, etc. was carried out in the middle reaches of the Yellow River. The whole situation was still unfavorable to the Tang army. When the poet was trapped in Chang’an, there was no way to learn about the war situation on the front line and the news of his wife, brother and sister, so he said that “the news of several states is broken”, and ended the poem with “worrying about sitting in the middle of the book”. This poem shows Du Fu’s deep concern for the fate of the country and his relatives, but he is unable to exert himself.

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