Autumn Meditations 2 Du Fu
Setting sun angles over Kuizhou's lone walls;
Big Dipper my guide, I gaze far off toward the shining capital.
I hear gibbons cry three times, and in truth tears come down;(1)
charged with a mission, vainly I boarded the eighth-month raft.(2)
Picture-hung ministry, its incense remote from the pillow I lie on;(3)
mountain towers, their white-daubed parapets dimmed with plaintive flutes.
Look there! Moonlight on vines and creepers that cloak the rocks—
already it shines on the rush and reed blossoms of the river shoals.
(1) An old song says that hearing three cries from the gibbons of the Yangzi gorges will invariably move one to tears.
(2) A double reference to the story of how the explorer Zhang Qian, on a mission for Emperor Wu of the Han, set out by raft and traced the Yellow River to its source; and to a story of how a man living by the sea boarded a raft that appeared in the eighth month and took him to the River of Heaven, the Milky Way. Both journeys led to success, whereas Du Fu's official career ended in failure.
(3) Du Fu is recalling time when he was an official in the Department of State Affairs, whose walls were decorated with portraits of distinguished men. Women attendants burned incense to perfume the robes of officials spending the night on duty at the ministry.