Translated by John Minford and Chan Oi-sum 1996
As the Zhou Dynasty rebuilt the Empire
and celebrated the unity of All-Under-Heaven
courtiers were honoured, ceremonial music composed,
metals melted, vessels cast, new injunctions set in bronze, power revalidated.
The grand banquet commenced, noblemen and elders took the places of honour;
while savage fauna bubbled restlessly in the cauldron,
a sober phoenix motif replaced the gruesome mask of the Beast
Our humble bellies have ingested a surfeit of treachery
eaten their fill of history, wolfed down legends --
and still the banquet goes on, leaving
an unfilled void in an ever-changing structure.
Constantly we become food for our own consumption.
For fear of forgetting, we swallow our loved ones,
we masticate our memories and our stomachs rumble as we look outwards.
Creation’s aspirations are trussed,
caught tight by the luminous bronze.
In his campaign against the Chu, the southern state,
as the Emperor approached the wilderness beyond the Central Plain,
ten thousand bawled for the rustics beyond the pale,
to make their low bow of homage;
Stone and metal engraved; vessels fashioned; tintinnabulations of history.
The proclamations sit heavy on the stomach,
destroy the appetite; the table is altogether overdone.
May I abstain from the rich banquet menu,
eat my simple fare, my gruel, my wild vegetables,
cook them, share them with you? Is there a chance
your pomp and circumstance could ever change,
evolve slowly into a new motif, some new arabesque of beauty?
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