The poems of “The Song of the Earth” are considerably and freely transformed from various sources in notes from classes in Chinese poetry, painting, and opera by Ch’eng Hsi, 1966 and 1967, University of Iowa.
1: lines from “To Tell Old Tales on Western Isle,” poem inscribed on a painting by Tang Yin (1500s).
2: first two lines from part of “The West Lake” by Lin Sheng (12th century) and the rest from a poem by P’u Yung Yü Le (probably also 12th century).
3: first three lines from commentary by Ch’eng Hsi and the rest from a poem by Wan Yan Liang (reigning 1149 to 1160).
4: from a Sung bandit story.
5 is my version of a famous poem, “Resentment,” by Pan Chieh-yü (about 48 to 6 b.c.e.), a former palace girl, once a favorite of the emperor, now in exile.
6: from commentary by Ch’eng Hsi.
7 is my version of a famous poem by T’ao Ch’ien (a.d. 365 to 457), “Returning to the Fields and Gardens.” A magistrate, T’ao refused to serve an emperor he hated and so retired to the country.
8 is several commentaries about the poet Li Po (701–762) with a line by him: “the Milky Way came down to earth.” “Last seen: feet” means he became a Taoist immortal, disappearing into the heavens.
Li Po wrote poems that in German translation Gustav Mahler set to music for Das Lied von der erde, which is one of the inspirations for this sequence and its title. Li Po is one of the two greatest poets of China.
9 is an image of Tu Fu (712–770), the other greatest poet, merged with a scene in Kon Ichikawa’s film about the end of the Second World War, The Burmese Harp.