More Translations from the Chinese/Prose Letter to Yüan Chēn
 PROSE LETTER TO YÜAN CHĒN
Night of the tenth day of the fourth month. Lo-t'ien says: O Wei-chih, Wei-chih, it is three years since I saw your face and almost two years since I had a letter from you. Is man's life so long that he can afford such partings? Much less should hearts joined by glue be set in bodies remote as Hu and Yüeh. In promotion we could not be together; and in failure we cannot forget each other. Snatched and wrenched apart, separately each of us grows grey. O Wei-chih, what is to be done? But this is the work of Heaven and there is no use in speaking of it.
When I first arrived at Hsün-yang, Hsiung Ju-tēng came with the letter which you had written the year before, when you were so ill. First you told me of the progress of your illness, next of your feelings while you were ill and last you spoke of all our meetings and partings, and of the occasion of your own difficulties and dangers. You had no time to write more, but sent a bundle of your writings with a note attached, which said, "Later on I will send a message by Po Min-chung. Ask him for news and that will do instead of a letter." Alas! Is it thus that Wei-chih treats me? But again, I read the poem you wrote when you heard I had been banished:
The lamp had almost spent its light: shadows filled the room,
The night I heard that Lo-t'ien was banished to Kiu-kiang.
And I that had lain sick to death sat up suddenly in bed;
A dark wind blowing rain entered at the cold window.
If even strangers' hearts are touched by these lines, much more must mine be; so that to this day I cannot recite them without pain. Of this matter I will say no more, but tell you briefly what has passed of late.
It is more than three years since I came to Kiu-kiang. All this time my body has been strong and my heart much at peace. There has been no sickness in my household, even among the servants. Last summer my elder brother arrived from Hsü-chou, leading by the hand six or seven little brothers and sisters, orphans of various households. So that I have under my eyes all those who at present demand my care. They share with me cold and heat, hunger and satiety. This is my first consolation.
The climate of the River Province is somewhat cool, so that fevers and epidemics are rare. And while snakes and mosquitoes are few, the fish in the Pēn are remarkably fat, the River wine is exceedingly good, and indeed for the most part the food is like that of the North Country. Although the mouths within my doors are many and the salary of a Sub-Prefect is small, by a thrifty application of my means, I am yet able to provide for my household without seeking any man's assistance to clothe their backs or fill their bellies. This is my second consolation.
In the autumn of last year I visited Lu Shan for the first time. Reaching a point between the Eastern Forest and Western Forest Temples, beneath the Incense-Burner Peak, I was enamoured by the unequalled prospect of cloud-girt waters and spray-clad rocks. Unable to leave this place, I built a cottage here. Before it stand ten tall pines and a thousand tapering bamboos. With green creepers I fenced my garden; with white stones I made bridge and path. Flowing waters encircle my home; flying spray falls between the eaves. Red pomegranate and white lotus cluster on the steps of the pond. All is after this pattern, though I cannot here name each delight. Whenever I come here alone, I am moved to prolong my stay to ten days; for of the things that have all my life most pleased me, not one is missing. So that not only do I forget to go back, but would gladly end my days here. This is my third consolation.
Remembering that not having had news of me for so long, you might be in some anxiety with regard to me, I have hastened to set your mind at rest by recording these three consolations. What else I have to tell shall be set out in due order, as follows. . . .
Wei-chih, Wei-chih! The night I wrote this letter I was sitting at the mountain-window of my thatched hut. I let my brush run as my hand willed and wrote at hazard as my thoughts came. When I folded it and addressed it, I found that dawn had come. I raised my head and saw only a few mountain-priests, some sitting, some sleeping. I heard the mournful cries of mountain apes and the sad twitterings of valley birds. O friend of all my life, parted from me by a thousand leagues, at such times as this "dim thoughts of the World" creep upon me for a while; so, following my ancient custom, I send you these three couplets:
I remember how once I wrote you a letter sitting in the Palace at night,
At the back of the Hall of Golden Bells, when dawn was coming in the sky.
This night I fold your letter—in what place?
Sitting in a cottage on Lu Shan, by the light of a late lamp.
The caged bird and fettered ape are neither of them dead yet;
In the world of men face to face will they ever meet again?
O Wei-chih, Wei-chih! This night, this heart—do you know them or not? Lo-t'ien bows his head.
- Other name of Po Chü-i.
- Other name of Yüan Chēn.
- The extreme North and South of China.
- A poet, several of whose short poems are well-known.
- The son of Po Chü-i's uncle Po Ch'i-k'ang.
- A famous mountain near Kiu-kiang.
- What followed is omitted in the printed text.
- This expression is used by Yüan Chēn in a poem addressed to Po Chü-i. By "the World," he means their life together at Court.