Looking South to the River
Outside the curtains: Sa Sa,
of rain. Spring is almost over.
These silk blankets
are too thin, the fifth watch too
and in my dream, I had forgotten
about all of this—my self,
I am starting to think—that
when the sun
is setting and you are resting
alone, it’s better not
to look south to those streams
and hills. Leaving
them was easy—but going back
was hard. The waters flowing away.
breaking to the ground. Spring
has also left.
heaven, this earth.
—Li Hou Zhu
(translated from the Chinese by
Ken Chen and Donna Chen Snow)
Li Hou Zhu (937-978?), also known as Li Yü,
was the last emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty. In 975 his
kingdom was annexed by the Song dynasty, and Li spent the rest
of his life under house arrest. He died in 978, poisoned by the
second Song Emperor, who thought one of Li's poems too revolutionary.
Ken Chen and his
mother, Donna Chen Snow, are currently translating
the work of Li Hou Zhu. Ken is a law student at Yale University,
and Donna is an engineer at Hewlett-Packard.
Originally published in the April/May
2004 issue of Boston Review.