Letting wealth and fame drift by like clouds

Du Fu

A SONG OF A PAINTING TO GENERAL CAO

O General, descended from Wei’s Emperor Wu,

You are nobler now than when a noble….

Conquerors and their velour perish,

But masters of beauty live forever.

…With your brush-work learned from Lady Wei

And second only to Wang Xizhi’s,

Faithful to your art, you know no age,

Letting wealth and fame drift by like clouds.

…In the years of Kaiyuan you were much with the Emperor,

Accompanied him often to the Court of the South Wind.

When the spirit left great statesmen, on walls of the Hall of Fame

The point of your brush preserved their living faces.

You crowned all the premiers with coronets of office;

You fitted all commanders with arrows at their girdles;

You made the founders of this dynasty, with every hair alive,

Seem to be just back from the fierceness of a battle.

…The late Emperor had a horse, known as Jade Flower,

Whom artists had copied in various poses.

They led him one day to the red marble stairs

With his eyes toward the palace in the deepening air.

Then, General, commanded to proceed with your work,

You centred all your being on a piece of silk.

And later, when your dragon-horse, born of the sky,

Had banished earthly horses for ten thousand generations,

There was one Jade Flower standing on the dais

And another by the steps, and they marvelled at each other….

The Emperor rewarded you with smiles and with gifts,

While officers and men of the stud hung about and stared.

…Han Gan, your follower, has likewise grown proficient

At representing horses in all their attitudes;

But picturing the flesh, he fails to draw the bone-

So that even the finest are deprived of their spirit.

You, beyond the mere skill, used your art divinely-

And expressed, not only horses, but the life of a good man….

Yet here you are, wandering in a world of disorder

And sketching from time to time some petty passerby

People note your case with the whites of their eyes.

There’s nobody purer, there’s nobody poorer.

…Read in the records, from earliest times,

How hard it is to be a great artist.