Thirty six thousand days in the life of a lucky man, but a single day that’s spent in a boat has simply an endless span.


Han Shan

I call to my friends, picking lotus,
Wonderfully afloat on the clear river,
And forget, in my delight, how late it grows,
Till gusts of evening wind whirl by.
Waves scoop up the mandarin ducks;
Ripples rock the broad-tailed mallards;
At this moment, sitting in my boat,
Thoughts pour out in endless streams.

Burton Watson



Su Tung-P’o

I hate it! – that even this body’s not mine alone…
someday i’ll give it all up.
the night moves, the breeze writes
quietly in ripples on the water.
a little boat, leaving here and now,
the rest of my life on the river, on the sea.



Yuan Mei

A whole life without speaking,
“a thunderous silence”
that was Wei-ma’s Way.
And here is a place where no monk can preach.
I understand now what T’ao Ch’ien, enlightened,
said, he couldn’t say.
It’s so clear, here, this water
my teacher.

J.P. Seaton


Seeing Off Prefect Ji Mu as he Leaves Office and Goes East of the River

Wang Wei

Ten thousand mies of pure autumn sky.
Sunset clarifies the empty river.
What pleasure on a crystal night
to rap on the side of the boat and sing
or share the light with fish and birds,
leisurely stretched out in the rushes.

Tony Barnstone


Ballad of the Voyager

Li Po

Ocean voyager, on heaven’s winds,
in his ship, far wandering…
like a bird, among the clouds,
gone, he will leave no trace.

J.P. Seaton


Passing the Night on the Chien-te River

Meng Hao-jan

My boat moored by misty isle,
sun sets, while a traveler’s grief rises.
Above vast plain: sky lowers among the trees.
In the limpid stream, the moon moves close.

J.P. Seaton


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.