Su Shih

Su Shih was without any doubt the greatest poet of the Sung.

Su Shih
Even as a young boy in eleventh-century China, Su Shih was clearly special. After finding a rare inkstone, he began to write stories and verses expressing his love of the natural world. His words flowed effortlessly. His brush danced across the paper.

Su Shih grew up to become a leading scholar and statesman, eventually taking the name Su Dongpo. Integrating his love of natural order and humanity into his writings and civic works, Su Dongpo promoted justice and condemned corruption — often at his own peril. His life was rife with reversals of fortune; but through it all he retained his grace, his humility, and his compassion.

The Old Fisherman

Where does the fisherman go for a drink
when his fish and his crabs are all sold?
He never sets himself a limit: just keeps on drinking ’til he’s drunk,
and neither he nor the bartender totes up his tab.


When the fisherman’s drunk, his straw cloak dances,
searching through drunkenness to find the way home.
Light skiff, the short oars akimbo:
and when he wakes up he never knows where.


The fisherman’s awakening: spring river’s noon.
A dream cut short by falling petals, floating silks.
Wine awakened, drunken still, and drunk, he’s still awake.
He smiles upon this world of men, both now and gone.


The fisherman’s smile: a seagull floating,
lost in a river of mist and rain.
By the riverside, on horseback, an official’s come,
to hire his skiff, to ferry him on toward the south.

J.P. Seaton


Written in Response to Ziyou’s Poem About Days in Mianchi

A life touches on places
like a swan alighting on muddy snow-
accidental claw tracks left in the slush
before it soars east or west into the random air.
The old monk is dead, interred beneath the new pagoda,
and on ruined walls the poems we brushed are illegible.
Do you still remember the rugged path,
the endless road, our tired bodies, how our lame donkey brayed?

Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping


Climbing Cloud Dragon Mountain

Drunk, l race up Yellow Grass Hill,
slope strewn with boulders like flocks of sheep,
at the top collapse on a bed of stone,
staring at white clouds in a bottomless sky.
My song sinks to the valley on long autumn winds.
Passers-by look up, gaze southeast.
clap their hands and laugh: “The governor’s gone mad!”

Burton Watson


Moon, Flowers, Man

I raise my cup and invite
The moon to come down from the
Sky. I hope she will accept
Me. I raise my cup and ask
The branches, heavy with flowers,
To drink with me. I wish them
Long life and promise never
To pick them. In company
With the moon and the flowers,
I get drunk, and none of us
Ever worries about good
Or bad. How many people
Can comprehend our joy? I
Have wine and moon and flowers.
Who else do I want for drinking companions?


Kenneth Rexroth


The Southern Room Over the River

The room is prepared, the incense burned.
I close the shutters before I close my eyelids.
The patterns of the quilt repeat the waves of the river.
The gauze curtain is like a mist.
Then a dream comes to me and when I awake
I no longer know where I am.
I open the western window and watch the waves
Stretching on and on to the horizon.

J.P. Seaton


Spring Day

Pigeons coo: swallows feed their young without a sound.
Sun’s rays through the window westward make everything come clear.
Sobered up, at noon, and nothing to do,
except maybe take a nap in this spring sunshine.

J.P. Seaton


Ten Years Living and Dying Alone

 Ten years living dying alone
 Why remember
How forget
Miles and miles away
Cold thought thinking
If we met would you know me
Face dust
Hair frost

Dreaming last night found me home
At your window
You primping
Turning to see me
Tears for your eyes
Year after year what eats the heart
Moon grave
Squat pine

Cid Corman


Boating at Night on West Lake

Wild rice stems endless on the vast lake.
Night-blooming lotus perfumes the wind and dew.
Gradually the light of a far temple appears.
When the moon goes black, I watch the lake gleam.

Tony Barnston and Chou Ping


When a Child is Born

Families, when a child is born
Want it to be intelligent.
I, through intelligence,
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he will crown a tranquil life
By becoming a Cabinet Minister.

Arthur Waley


Drinking at a Lake on a Clear Day Followed by Rain

Incredible, the water-light
that glitters here and there.

The mountain’s hazy color
in rain, also marvelous.

I want to compare West Lake
to the sweet beauty of Xi Zi,

unadorned, adorned, her face
rouged or untouched, just right.

Anthony Piccione and Carol Zhigong Chang


Mid-Autumn Moon

Six years the moon shone at mid-autumn;
five years it saw us parted.
I sing your farewell song;
sobs from those who sir with me.
The southern capital must be busy,
but you won’t let the occasion pass:
Hundred-league lake of melted silver,
thousand-foot towers in the pendant mirror –
at third watch. when songs and flutes are srilled
and figures blur in the clear shade of trees,
you return to your north hall rooms,
cold light glinting on the dew of leaves;
calling For wine, you drink with your wife
and tell the children stories. thinking of me.
You have no way of knowing I’ve been sick,
that I face the pears and chestnuts, cup empry,
and stare east of the old riverbed
where buckwheat blossoms spread their snow.
l wanted to write a verse to your last year’s song
but I was afraid my heart would break.

Burton Watson

It is raining cats and dogs, fusing distant Yangtze River at the window.
In this vast sheet of water my hut is like a fishing boat swaying on a raging sea.
What in my humble kitchen are cold greens, and what in my dilapidated range are wet reeds.

Receiving a letter from home, I realized that it is Cold Food Festival.
While those noblemen live in imposing dwellings, I am going to be lost in this remote land.
I want to cry for my misfortune, but my withered heart won’t to respond.




 Outside the bamboo forest there are three or two peach blossom branches,
When the spring river’s waters become warm the ducks are the first ones to know.
Herbs cover the entire ground amidst the short reeds,
It is just the right time for the puffer fishes to swim to the surface.

The Shih Ching , usually translated as either The Book of Songs or the Classic of Poetry, is the first great collection of Chinese poetry. Tradition says that it was edited into its present form by the Sage of Sages, Confucius himself. In fact the book was assembled before, during, and after the life of Confucius. Its more than three hundred poems include fragments of works as old as the Shang Dynasty (traditional; dates 1766-1154 BCE) as well as “contemporary” poems from the Chou feudal states written or spoken by both aristocratic court figures and just plain “folks”. A great deal has been said about the origin of many, if not the majority of the poems as oral “folk” art, but it is clear from the artistry of the written language in which they have been handed down that, like the scribes who improved upon the originally oral poetry attributed to “Homer” in the West to create the Iliad and the Odyssey, the people who converted Chou folk songs and court verses into poetry in written Chinese characters clearly thought of themselves as (and were) artists. So the characters used to render simple and direct lyrical utterances of the illiterate peasant folk often honor them with carefully chosen written vocabulary: the heart and soul of folk art remains clearly present, but literary subtleties are introduced. The scribes who created the Shih Ching were poets, not tape recorders. They chose the best of what existed, and they honored it with their own art.

In its present form, the Shih Ching consists of three major sections, the Kuo Feng, or Odes of the States, comprising 160 of the 300 are generally but not always folk songs. The Ya (Elegant Verses) subdivided with no obvious criteria into greater and lesser, include poems 161-265, and the Sung or Temple Odes high ritual songs and bits of dynastic myth, include poems 266-305. The present selection is comes, all but a single longer poem on drinking and its positive and negative consequences from the “Lesser Elegants”, all come from the Kuo Feng Sections.

Knowledge of the Shih Ching poems was a necessity of diplomatic practice around the time of Confucius, when it was a common practice to deliver or at least support the delivery of diplomatic messages among the feudal domains (the “States or Guo of the Guo Feng) by oral presentation of relevant lines from the Classic. From the Han on many of the poems where imbued with very specific allegorical interpretations, but it is clear that later poets, who memorized the book word for word, used it as allusive material in their own poems at least as often for its plain “folk” messages as for its orthodoxly approved allegorical ones.