States of Poetry Series Three - ACT | 'The abiding remorse' by Mark O'Connor

‘We were two cranes, each broken-winged,
that hopped and panicked in the dust

till welded, seamless, rib to rib,
we sprang with equal, matchless strokes

to glide above the circling clouds
beyond the glance of counsellors,
perfect, alone, in company’

So wrote the Emperor
of plump Kwei Fei, whose blood
his generals poured in dust, whose love
cost him and China everything.

Despised and hobbling on the earth,
his patient brush stroked out these lines,
still unrevoked.

Mark O’Connor


Quasi-translation by Mark O’Connor. The story of the eighth century Tang emperor Xuan Zhong and his ‘perfumed concubine’ Yang Kwei Fei (or Gui Fei) is famous in China. The poem is loosely based on a couplet from the Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi’s ‘The Abiding Remorse’.