translated from the Chinese by Arthur Waley

High and low, wise and simple, all busily hoard up the moments of life. How greatly they err!

Therefore I have to the uttermost exposed the bitterness both of Substance and Shadow, and have made Spirit show how, by following Nature, we may dissolve this bitterness.

                           Substance speaks to Shadow:
Heaven and Earth exist for ever:
Mountains and rivers never change.
But herbs and trees in perpetual rotation
Are renovated and withered by the dews and frosts:
And Man the wise, Man the divine—
Shall he alone escape this law?
Fortuitously appearing for a moment in the World
He suddenly departs, never to return.
How can he know that the friends he has left
Are missing him and thinking of him?
Only the things that he used remain;
They look upon them and their tears flow.
Me no magical arts can save,
Though you may hope for a wizard’s aid.
I beg you listen to this advice—
When you can get wine, be sure to drink it.

                           Shadow replies:
There is no way to preserve life.
Drugs of Immortality are instruments of folly.
I would gladly wander in Paradise,
But it is far away and there is no road.
Since the day that I was joined to you
We have shared all our joys and pains.
While you rested in the shade, I left you a while:
But till the end we shall be together.
Our joint existence is impermanent:
Sadly together we shall slip away.
That when the body decays Fame should also go
Is a thought unendurable, burning the heart.
Let us strive and labour while yet we may
To do some deed that men will praise.
Wine may in truth dispel our sorrow,
But how compare it with lasting Fame?

                           Spirit expounds:
God can only set in motion:
He cannot control the things he has made.
Man, the second of the Three Orders,
Owes his precedence to Me.
Though I am different from you,
We were born involved in one another:
Nor by any means can we escape
The intimate sharing of good and ill.
The Three Emperors were saintly men,
Yet to-day—where are they?
P’ēng lived to a great age,
Yet he went at last, when he longed to stay.
And late or soon, all go:
Wise and simple have no reprieve.
Wine may bring forgetfulness.
But does it not hasten old-age?
If you set your hearts on noble deeds,
How do you know that any will praise you?
By all this thinking you do Me injury:
You had better go where Fate leads—
Drift on the Stream of Infinite Flux,
Without joy, without fear:
When you must go—then go,
And make as little fuss as you can.










This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

Whenever I spend the day crying, 
my friends tell me I look high. Good grief,  

they finally understand me.  
Even when the arena is empty, I thank god  

for the shots I miss. If you ever catch me  
only thanking god for the shots I make,  

remind me I’m not thanking god. Remind me  
all my prayers were answered  

the moment I started praying  
for what I already have.  

Jenny says when people ask if she’s out of the woods,  
she tells them she’ll never be out of the woods,  

says there is something lovely about the woods.  
I know how to build a survival shelter  

from fallen tree branches, packed mud,  
and pulled moss. I could survive forever  

on death alone. Wasn’t it death that taught me  
to stop measuring my lifespan by length,

but by width? Do you know how many beautiful things  
can be seen in a single second? How you can blow up

a second like a balloon and fit infinity inside of it? 
I’m infinite, I know, but I still have a measly wrinkle

collection compared to my end goal. I would love  
to be a before picture, I think, as I look in the mirror

and mistake my head for the moon. My dark  
thoughts are almost always 238,856 miles away 

from me believing them. I love this life, 
I whisper into my doctor’s stethoscope

so she can hear my heart. My heart, an heirloom
I didn’t inherit until I thought I could die.

Why did I go so long believing I owed the world
my disappointment? Why did I want to take

the world by storm when I could have taken it
by sunshine, by rosewater, by the cactus flowers

on the side of the road where I broke down?
I’m not about to waste more time

spinning stories about how much time
I’m owed, but there is a man

who is usually here, who isn’t today.  
I don’t know if he’s still alive. I just know

his wife was made of so much hope  
she looked like a firework above his chair.

Will the afterlife be harder if I remember
the people I love, or forget them?

Either way, please let me remember.

Copyright © 2023 by Andrea Gibson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 30, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.