Monday, 6 April 2015

Poems of the Sword

Original Source:

he following poem was written by one of the greatest poets of the high T’ang, Tu Fu (712 – 770 CE). The translation was taken from



On October 19th in 767 CE, I visited Chi Yuan's mansion and saw “the Sword Dance” performed by Madam 12th Li from Lin-ying City. I was impressed by her talent and agility, so I asked her who her teacher was. She replied, “Madam Gong-sun”.
I recalled Madam Gong-sun's “the Sword Dance” and “Hun-tuo Dance” I had watched in 717 CE when I was still a child. Her movement and posture were graceful, rich in rhythm and full of passion. She was the most talented dancer in her time. No one else even from the Imperial Theater, the Royal Music Institute, or geisha houses could match her skill. At that time she was as beautiful as jade and her dress was colorful. Now my hair turns gray and her disciple is not in the bloom of youth. Madam Gong-sun must have died a long time ago. After learning about Madam Li's background and seeing her movements and rhythm match those of Madam Gong-sun, I cannot help but reflect on the past in the light of present. Therefore, I am writing this poem, the Sword Dance. Xu Zhang of Wu City mastered cursive script. He frequently watched the Sword Dance of Xi-he performed by Madam Gong-sun at Ye-xian City. From that time, his work of calligraphy was imbued with passion and his skill in advanced calligraphy greatly improved. This example shows how elegant her dance was.

Years ago there was a beautiful woman called Madam Gong-sun.
When she performed the Sword Dance,
She would cause a sensation throughout China.
The audience seats would be elevated like mountains.
They were amazed by the flashes of reflected sword light accompanied by her agile movements.
Even heaven and earth moved in tuned with her rhythm.
The sword flashed like Yi's arrows that shot down the nine suns.
She moved quickly and spiritedly like the dragon ridden by gods.
When her dance began, her movement was rapid and fierce like furious thunder shaking heaven and earth.
When her dance ended, her swords slowed down
Invoking thoughts of a mighty river or ocean regaining its shiny reflection.
Now her red lips and ornamental sleeves are gone.
After her death her disciple carries on her legacy.
In Bai-di City, the beautiful woman from Lin-ying City
Gracefully performed the Sword Dance in high spirits.
After I learned that she studied dance under the tutelage of Madam Gong-sun,
The dance scene brought back my memory.
I lament that time ruthlessly replaces old with new.
Among eight thousand courtesans in the palace during Emperor Xuan-zong's reign
Madam Gong-sun was the best at performing the Sword Dance.
Fifty years has passed away like the turn of a page.
The chaos resulting from rebellions seriously depleted the strength of the Tang dynasty.
The students in the Royal Music Institute scattered like dust.
All that remains of the Royal Music is a female dancer's swords reflecting the cold sun.
Every tree in front of Emperor Xuan-zong's Mausoleum has grown so large
That it requires a person's two arms to embrace it.
Ju-tang-shi-cheng City looks bleak and desolate as its grass withers.
As grand banquets and fast flute music ended,
Joy passed its zenith, grief took over, and the moon rose in the east.
I, an old man, am unaware of my destination.
My soles have become thickly callused
As I drift aimlessly on the bare mountain with a heavy heart. 

For a relevant post, please check out the following -

Women Warriors - Qiu Jin

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