Rhyming Couplets


In Chang'an's Winding River Park the air
Has Spring in prospect and the beauties there
Are virtuous and regal, demure and proud:
Voluptuous the bodies, veiled and loud.

As golden peacocks they flare in gauzy drapes,
Or are legendary unicorns in silvery shapes:
The sheen and ornament of each plumed head
Outdazzles the kingfisher's jades and red.
On each slim back a waistband presses
Satiated with pearls and with heavy dresses.

The scented favourite has brought her kin,
Favoured with dynasties of Guo and Qin.

A great hump of camel, purple, brims from the pot,
White slivers of fish, whether they will or not
Dally with chopsticks of rhinoceros horn:
In all the appetites are overdrawn.

Continually the riders, though they lift no dust,
Post out with delicacies: in the air a just
Perceptible answering to which pipes and drum
Raise ghosts of the hungry in the crowds who come.

Quietly, reigned at his tent, the minister steps down
From his horse to the carpets with a haughty frown;

Unnoticed, the poplar's frail drift of white
As a bluebird with a letter flits from sight.
Though illicit and severing, these summons brook
No slackness in obedience or answering look.

Du Fu's Rhyme Scheme


It is the third month festival at Chang'an
And the beauties by the river in the warm Spring air
Walk virtuous, walk regally, and in gestures share
What their tight-knit bodies breathe aloud.

Woven unicorns and peacocks strut on proud
As gauzes beneath flaunt the courtesan.

On their heads? Ringlets, glittering shapes:
As a kingfisher flares each feathered cloud.

And on their backs? Waistbands with pearls
More thickly embroidered than slim backs bear:

And prouder than these, than the preening swan,
Are the kith of the favourite all wait upon.

From jade-green ewers the juice escapes:
Purple hump of camel, white fish from the pan.
From crystal plates have the horn chopsticks dropped:
Ornaments lie scattered, stomachs bowed.

But still from kitchens comes the same rich fare
Despatched by horses and an elaborate care
Extends to the panpipes: their hauntings bear
An urgency here as only hunger can.

A minister, unnoticed in the jostling crowd,
Steps from horse to carpet to silk sedan.

The catkins of the willow are white on the ground
As a bluebird with a letter links clan to clan.
Power is restless, but the hot words vowed
Burn deeper than the minister's unbridled stare.

Du Fu: Ballad of Beautiful Ladies

Now collected in a free ebook published by Ocaso Press.