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“Planting Fairy Wings,” a Poem by Liu Zongyuan, translated by Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton and Yu Yuanyuan

From the Collection The Poetic Garden of Liu Zongyuan

December 22, 2022  By Liu Zongyuan, Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton, and Yu Yuanyuan
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种仙灵毗

 

穷陋阙自养

疠气剧嚣烦

隆冬乏霜霰

日夕南风温
杖藜下庭际

曳踵不及门

门有野田吏

慰我飘零魂
及言有灵药

近在湘西原

服之不盈旬

蹩躠皆腾鶱
笑抃前即吏

为我擢其根

蔚蔚遂充庭

英翘忽已繁
晨起自采曝

杵臼通夜喧

灵和理内藏

攻疾贵自源
壅覆逃积雾

伸舒委余暄

奇功苟可征

宁复资兰荪
我闻畸人术

一气中夜存

能令深深息

呼吸还归跟
疏放固难效

且以药饵论

痿者不忘起

穷者宁复言
神哉辅吾足

幸及儿女奔

*

Planting Fairy Wings[1]

In this poor, shabby place, I barely keep well
as toxic airs trouble me to no end.
Midwinter here lacks hail or frost;
every evening, the south wind’s lukewarm.
Cane in hand, I descend to the courtyard’s edge
but my heels drag and I can hardly reach my gate.
At the gate is the Official of Cleared Lands
who comforts my drifting, withered spirit
when he tells me about a magic herb
nearby, in a field west of the Xiang River:
“Take the herb for no more than ten days
and your limps will become leaps and soars.”
I smile, clap, and hurry toward the official,
begging him to pull the plant at its roots for me.
Dense and lush, it soon fills my courtyard
with clusters of sudden, bright blossoms.
At dawn, I rise to pick and sun-dry them.
My pestle and mortar sound all through the night.
These mild fairy wings balance my insides—
the best place to treat an illness is at its source.
They scatter and oust my feverish mists
then, stretching, they cast off excess warmth.
If only I could prove this magic feat,
I wouldn’t need to keep buying sweet sedge.
I’ve heard of certain odd people’s skills,
how they can hold one breath half the night.
It requires them to breathe very deeply
while feeling the air flow up from their soles.
Self-indulgent, I’d have trouble with that,
so I’ll keep taking medicine instead.
Those who are paralyzed don’t forget to get up
and those who are poor say, “I must rise again,”
so come on, magic herb, help my feet,
make me lucky enough to run like a child!

 

[1]  Liu might have composed this poem in 809 or 810. Fairy wings (Epimedium sp.) (the character [仙] in its name means “fairy” or “immortal”), also known as “horny goat weed,” refers to a genus of rhizomatous perennials in the barberry family (Berberidaceae). Most species are native to China, where the plant has a long history of medicinal use. In traditional Chinese medicine, doctors often prescribe recipes containing multiple ingredients. Fairy wings is included in recipes to strengthen bones and muscles, increase energy, and resolve erectile dysfunction, among other benefits.

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Excerpted from The Poetic Garden of Liu Zongyuan by Liu Zongyuan, translated by Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton and Yu Yuanyuan. Copyright © 2022. Available from Deep Vellum.




Liu Zongyuan, Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton, and Yu Yuanyuan
Liu Zongyuan, Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton, and Yu Yuanyuan
Liu Zongyuan (773 – 28 November 819) was a Chinese philosopher, poet, and politician who lived during the Tang Dynasty. Liu was born in present-day Yongji, Shanxi. Along with Han Yu, he was a founder of the Classical Prose Movement.

Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford, where he studied Chinese poetry and translation as a Marshall Scholar. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, Prelude, Poetry Salzburg Review, Griffith Review, Salamander, Sycamore Review, TAB, Tipton Poetry Journal, The Account, Raritan, and other publications.

Yu Yuanyuan is Associate Professor in the School of Foreign Studies at Anhui University, academic visitor in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge (2018-2019), and translator. Her recent poetry translation appears in Poetry Hall, The World Poets Quarterly, etc. Her translations have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, “the only truly international journal in Britain” (James Kirkup), Poetry Hall, The World Poets Quarterly, and Translating China among other publications.








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