Gazing at the mountain
Preparing to climb Mt. Tai
All around me, Zhao and Jiang, a distant blue
Good Fortune, the God of Time, bestows and
Balanced in dawn’s early light are Yin and Yang
To the layers of clouds I bare my breast, while
From the corner of my eye, I catch the sight of flying birds
As I struggle to reach the top
And see all the small hills in one glance?
What is it all about
Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pocket.” I like that. It takes hard work, one rung at a time, and sometimes, one needs to grab the foot that is just ahead and give it a yank.
A young Chinese scholar is about to take his imperial examinations. The future depends on it and he is jittery. Success is not a sure. In some years no students were passed, and Du Fu was in this group.
Wang Yue, “Gazing at the Mountain,” is one of Du Fu’s earliest poems.
It was written in 735 or 736 close in time to when Du Fu took his Jinshu examinations. As part of the examination, the candidate submitted a poem. There is no evidence for it, but this might have been the poem submitted by Du Fu. To “gaze at the mountain” is a metaphor for the challenge that stood before Du Fu. Success the goal and from the summit he could look down upon the thousands of others waiting their turn.
Is it optimism he expresses or the bravado of youth? Or is it the Greek quality of hubris that inevitably lead to defeat and downfall? Du Fu would fail his examination and his claim as one of finest poets of the Tang dynasties would take time.
Mount Tai or Tai’shen is a sacred mountain and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The long winding stairway to the summit and the Temple to the God of Taishan and from the Azure Cloud Temple is a famous pathway.
There are other translations. There always are. Often they differ in word and meaning, revealing our difficulties in understanding the voice of another human being from different culture and time.
Daniel Hsieh of Purdue University has given us his interpretation. Another one by All Poetry perhaps, better catches the poet’s meaning. I repeat it, for educational purposes.
For all this, what is the mountain god like?
An unending green of lands north and south:
From ethereal beauty Creation distills
There, yin and yang split dusk and dawn.
Swelling clouds sweep by. Returning birds
Ruin my eyes vanishing. One day soon,
At the summit, the other mountains will be
Small enough to hold, all in a single glance.
岱 宗 夫 如 何
齐 鲁 青 未 了
造 化 钟 神 秀
阴 阳 割 昏 晓
荡 胸 生 层 云
决 眦 入 归 鸟
会 当 凌 绝 顶
一 览 众 山 小