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This poem is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

A Poem (translated by Stephen Field) T'ien Wen

This poem was included in an anthology compiled in the Former Han dynasty, which gathered together the innovative poetic utterings of the rising South. In its entirety T'ien Wen consists of 186 questions with two lines or eight characters per query; the following translation includes only those sections dealing with astronomy/cosmogony and geography.

Part I

The Patterns of Heaven

Heaven asked, saying;1
Of the beginning of old,
Who spoke the tale?

When above and below were not yet formed,
Who was there to question?

When dark and bright were obscured,
Who could distinguish?

When matter was inchoate2
How was it perceived?

Brightest bright and darkest dark,
What was made from only these?

Yin and yang, blend and mix,3
What was the root, what transformed?

The circular and nine-tiered Heaven,4

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