Caveat: Of empty atmosphere

Climbing the Tower at the Temple 
 of Blessings with Friends

The fragrant realm of incense teems
With shrines and temples; yet none seems
     A match for the tower here.
As breezes fan our high redoubt,
A vision of Great Power spreads out
     Like trigrams for a seer.
We joke we’ve joined the feathered race,
And reached the elevated space
     Of empty atmosphere.
Or I perhaps am now a king
Of every seen and unseen thing:
     I’ve left the mortal sphere.
Palaces hunker at the base
And in the span these gables trace
     Mountains and rivers appear.
Last night the wind blew autumn in;
From east to west, the plain of Qin
     Seems measureless and clear.
A hundred miles away are seen
The royal tombs at Wuling, green
     Still lustrous yet austere.
This golden age owes gratitude
To Ruan’s brave men; I too have stood
     With a border sentry’s spear.
In this good cause our thanks are sent:
Today we climb this monument
     In perfect carefree cheer!

- Gao Shi (Tang Dynasty poet, ca. 704–765)

高适  同诸公登慈恩寺浮图

This poem is posted on the blog Tang Poetry, with translation by the blog’s author.

I don’t know Chinese at all. At best, I occasionally recognize a character and can guess its meaning, because of my study of Korean. At my height proficiency, I maybe had 100-150 characters memorized as recognition vocabulary, which is not necessary knowledge for modern Korean but which is quite useful in getting a better understanding of the relation between words, their etymologies, and distiguishing the language’s abundant homonyms, since about 60% of Korean vocabulary was borrowed (in past centuries) from Chinese. The sounds are often quite different, so even knowing the old Korean character and its pronunciation doesn’t inform me in any way about the modern Chinese pronunciation.

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