As one tops a hill and contemplates the path ahead, the words of the T'ang Dynasty poets come in handy -- their poems are filled with journeys and leave-takings, each unfolding in a particular place and in a particular season. But Romantic effusions are generally kept in check: what they offer is straightforward talk in a minutely beautiful world.
Lately I have been considering "On Being Sixty" by Po Chu-i (772-846). Selfishly, I have taken an interest in what he has to say about the years between 50 and 60, whose hill I am ascending, and soon will top.
On Being Sixty
Between thirty and forty one is distracted by the Five Lusts;
Between seventy and eighty one is prey to a hundred diseases.
But from fifty to sixty one is free from all ills;
Calm and still -- the heart enjoys rest.
I have put behind me Love and Greed, I have done with Profit
I am still short of illness and decay, and far from decrepit age.
Strength of limb I still possess to seek the rivers and hills;
Still my heart has spirit enough to listen to flutes and strings.
At leisure I open new wine and taste several cups;
Drunken I recall old poems and chant a stray verse.
To Tun-shih and Meng-te I offer this advice:
Do not complain of three-score, "the time of obedient ears."
The translation is by Arthur Waley. In a footnote to the final line, Waley writes: "Confucius said that not till sixty did 'his ears obey him'." Arthur Waley, Chinese Poems (1946).
"Free from all ills?" "Calm and still -- the heart enjoys rest?" Love, Greed, Profit, and Fame "put behind me" or "done with?" It sounds as though I am living in paradise.