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’.

Mark O'Connor

Mark O'Connor

Mark O’Connor was born in Melbourne in 1945, and graduated from Melbourne University in 1965. He lives in Canberra. In 1999 he was the Australian National University’s H.C. Coombs Fellow, and thereafter a Visiting Scholar in its Department of Archaeology and Natural History. He has taught English at several universities, has published fifteen books of verse, and won many prizes and awards. His poetry shows a special interest in the natural world. He was Australia’s ‘Olympic poet’ for the Sydney 2000 Games, with a fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts to ‘report in verse on the Games’. He holds a doctorate in Shakespearian studies, and is the editor of Oxford University Press’ much re-printed Two Centuries of Australian Poetry.