Du Fu

A DRAWING OF A HORSE BY GENERAL CAO

AT SECRETARY WEI FENG’S HOUSE

Throughout this dynasty no one had painted horses

Like the master-spirit, Prince Jiangdu —

And then to General Cao through his thirty years of fame

The world’s gaze turned, for royal steeds.

He painted the late Emperor’s luminous white horse.

For ten days the thunder flew over Dragon Lake,

And a pink-agate plate was sent him from the palace-

The talk of the court-ladies, the marvel of all eyes.

The General danced, receiving it in his honoured home

After this rare gift, followed rapidly fine silks

From many of the nobles, requesting that his art

Lend a new lustre to their screens.

…First came the curly-maned horse of Emperor Taizong,

Then, for the Guos, a lion-spotted horse….

But now in this painting I see two horses,

A sobering sight for whosoever knew them.

They are war- horses. Either could face ten thousand.

They make the white silk stretch away into a vast desert.

And the seven others with them are almost as noble

Mist and snow are moving across a cold sky,

And hoofs are cleaving snow-drifts under great trees-

With here a group of officers and there a group of servants.

See how these nine horses all vie with one another-

The high clear glance, the deep firm breath.

…Who understands distinction? Who really cares for art?

You, Wei Feng, have followed Cao; Zhidun preceded him.

…I remember when the late Emperor came toward his Summer Palace,

The procession, in green-feathered rows, swept from the eastern sky —

Thirty thousand horses, prancing, galloping,

Fashioned, every one of them, like the horses in this picture….

But now the Imperial Ghost receives secret jade from the River God,

For the Emperor hunts crocodiles no longer by the streams.

Where you see his Great Gold Tomb, you may hear among the pines

A bird grieving in the wind that the Emperor’s horses are gone.