Yarrow (angelweed) wrote,

Ride Six Dragons

I've always liked this poem by either Li Bai (Li Po) or Barry Hughart, depending on how you slice it.  In his novel Eight Skilled Gentlemen, Hughart's character Master Li says

  Do you know Li Po's 'Short Song'?

    'Earth too big
    Sky too far
    Ride six dragons
    Around North Star
    Crazy dragons stinking drunk
    Enjoy self!'

Searching for actual translations, I came across one by James R. Murphy and another by the blogger Akt.  Hughart's 18-word version is much shorter than the 70-character original, whose title is translated by both my sources as 'Song of Brevity' -- more a lament for the shortness of life than the giddy carousing of Hughart's version.  The six dragons pull the chariot of the Sun, much like Helio's chariot in Greek mythology.

Here's a version about the length of Li Bai's, and shorter than my sources' versions.  Except for the Sun-dragons I've used Greek instead of Chinese myth: the Lady of Hemp becomes Helen of Troy and the God of Heaven joking with the Jade Lady becomes Baubo joking with Demeter.

  Daylight flees.
  A century fills up fast.
  Infinite blue sky, eons
  And eons come to -- just this.

  Fair Helen's locks
  are long since gray.
  It's been a billion laughs
  Since Baubo lifted skirts for Demeter.

  O let me grab the Sun-carriage reins,
  Tie six dragons to the dawn,
  Grab the Big Dipper
  And serve them each ten gallons of wine!

  You can keep the money and fame:
  I just want to stop the Sun.

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