Li Bai Poem

The Steep Road to Shuh

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Alas! how precipitous! Alas! how high!
The road to Shuh is more difficult to climb than to climb
           the steep blue heaven.
In the remotest time of Tsang-tsung and Yu-fu—
Yea, forty milleniums ago—that land was founded.
Yet from the wall of the Middle Kingdom runs no highway
thither, no highway linking human dwellings;
Only a lone precipitous path—the bird-way—was built,
Leading westward toward the evening star,
And trailing across the forehead of the Yo-mei mountain.
And how those strong men died, traveling over!
The earth sunk and the mountains crumbled.
At last there is now a road of many ladders and bridges
           hooked together in the air.
Lo, the road-mark high above, where the six dragons
           circle the sun!
Lo, the stream far below, winding forth and winding back,
           breaks into foam!
The yellow crane could not fly over these mountain-tops;
And the monkeys wail, unable to leap over these gorges.
How the Green Mud path turns round and round!—
There are nine turns to each hundred steps.
The traveler must climb into the very realm of stars,
           and gasp for breath;
Then draw a long sigh, his hands on his breast.
Oh, why go you west, I pray? And when will you return?
I fear for you. You cannot clamber over these jutting
You shall hear no voice but the cuckoos calling in the
           moonlight by night, calling mournfully in the
           desolate mountains.
The road to Shuh is more difficult to climb than to climb
           the steep blue heaven.
A mere story of it makes the youth’s red face grow pale.
The lofty peaks shoot up cloudward in rows. If one foot
           higher, they would touch the heaven.
The dead pine trees cling to the cliff, hanging headmost
           over the abyss.
The sparkling cascades and the spurting torrents vie with
           one another to make the bellowing din. Anon, a
           giant boulder tumbles from the crag-head; a
           thousand mountain walls resound like thunder.
O you wayfarers from afar, why do you come hither on this
           direful road?
The gate of the Sword Parapet stands firm on its fright-
           ful height.
One man defending it, a thousand men could not break it
And the keepers of the gate are not of your kin, They may
           turn, I fear, to wolves and leopards.
Fleeing at morn before the savage tigers,
Fleeing at eve before the huge serpents,
Men are killed and cut up like hemp,
While the beasts whet their fangs and lick the blood.
Though many pleasures there may be in the brocade city
           of Shuh,
It were better to return to your house quickly.
The road to Shuh is more difficult to climb than to climb
           the steep blue heaven.
I shrug my shoulders and heave a long sigh-gazing into
the west.

Parting at a Tavern of Chin-Ling
In the Spring-Time on the South Side of the Yangtze Kiang


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