Facing My Fears And Griefs

Facing my fears and griefs

The Chinese poet Du Fu () (712-770) is well-known and well-loved among Chinese-speakers around the world. He aspired to be a civil servant, but his poetry made a much greater impact.

I have mentioned that it took about six hundred years for the poetry of Rumi to reach the west. It took a much longer time for the poetry of Du Fu to arrive on western shores. British diplomat Herbert Giles (1845-1935) was the first English translator of Du Fu in 1898. Since then, the importance of Du Fu has been recognized by western scholars. Stephen Owen translated the complete works of Du Fu in 2016.

Facing my fears and griefs

The Du Fu poem I am sharing with you is from a troubled season of Chinese history known as the An Lushan Rebellion. I’m told that Du Fu is hiding in a Buddhist monastery to avoid being conscripted by rebel forces. Here is the poem in Chinese:

大云寺赞公房四首 (三)


Du Fu wrote four poems in this setting. This is the third of them. Earlier translators rendered the title as “In Abbot Zan’s Room at Dayun Temple.” I am sharing a translation by David Young.

In the Abbot’s Cell

I lie awake and watch
the flicker of the lamp

delicate odor of incense
helps to clear my thoughts

mostly filled with darkness
the central hall looms large

sound of a wind chime
tinkling below the eaves


The flowers just outside
are all invisible

but I can smell their fragrance
here in the quiet dark

one of the constellations
is setting behind the roof

passing the iron phoenix
fixed at the temple’s peak


Pretty soon the monks
will start to chant their sutras

the bell calls them to prayer
I stay in bed

before very long I’ll have to rise
and walk across plowed fields

facing the dust and wind
facing my fears and griefs.

I take pleasure in Du Fu’s enjoyment of the environment and the present moment. To me, it is as if he takes strength to face the coming trials from these things. This poem can be found in the book “Du Fu: A Life in Poetry” translated by David Young.

The world is facing a pandemic. Strategies have proven ineffective. Du Fu enjoyed the odor of the incense and the movement of the constellations. I am enjoying offering a poem of Du Fu in the hope of giving strength to face difficulties. I lift up the hands of the helpers. In my own way, I am facing the dust and wind, facing my fears and griefs.

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