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杜甫《惡樹》 “Hateful Trees” by Du Fu (712-770)

獨遶虛齋徑, Alone [I] stroll about [my] empty studio and paths,

常持小斧。 Always a small axe in hand.

幽陰成頗雜, Deep shade takes shape, in motley fashion;

惡木剪還。 [Those] hateful trees, [though] cut back, thrive even more.

枸杞因吾有, The wolfberry is there because of me,[1]

雞棲奈汝。 [But] chicken-perch, what to do about you?[2]

方知不材者, Now [I] see how things of no use

生長漫婆[3] Grow rampant and luxuriant.[4]

[1] The Daoist tradition values the root of the thousand-year-old gouqi 枸杞 (wolfberry, Lycium chinense) tree that takes the shape of a dog, so the first character in the term, gou枸, is a homophone of gou 狗 (dog). See Qiu Zhaoao’s 仇兆鰲 (1638-1717) notes in his Du shi xiangzhu 杜詩詳注: [2] Jiqi 雞棲 (literally “chicken-perch”) is an alternative name for zaojia 皂莢 (Chinese honey locust or black locust, Gleditsia sinensis). The poet chooses this term here so that the sixth line runs parallel to the fifth line in diction, which is common for the third couplet of lüshi 律詩 (regulated verse). [3] Red characters rhyme. [4] The ending lines recall the discussion about the value of uselessness in several passages of the Zhuangzi. The word bucai 不材 (make no timber, thus “make no good material” or “good for nothing” by extension), in particular, comes from the opening passage of the chapter “Shanmu” 山木 that presents a big tree that gets the opportunity to flourish precisely because it seems useless to woodcutters; see Zhuangzi:

A typical undesirable tree is the chu (= chouchun 臭椿, tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima). which is made famous by the Zhuangzi 莊子 as a huge yet "useless" tree (see the last passage of the chapter "Xiaoyaoyou" 逍遙遊:

Chu in the 1886 edition of Oka Genpō's 岡元鳳 (1737-1787) Shijing 詩經 (Book of Songs) illustrations, Mōshi himbutsu zukō / Maoshi pinwu tukao 毛詩品物圖攷.

Picture Credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

Chu in Hosoi Shun's 細井徇 (fl. 19th century) Shijing illustrations, Shikyō meibutsu zukai / Shijing minwu tujie 詩經名物圖解; from the digital collection of the National Diet Library, Japan:


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