Written on the Boat, Going Home

Yuan Mei

From Suchou to Nanching
I thought I’d rent a boat
Willows here to see us off…
peaches there to greet us…
Three days of bicker-bargaining
and we hadn’t left the pier.
Now one night of Spring-tide
strikes the stern,
and love-birds, intertwined,
asleep beneath the sheets,
Have sailed a hundred miles
of Southern stream.
The master boatman calls for wine,
as I prepare some tea.
Never fear, though it’s not here.
don’t you hum and sigh so,
With the wind, against the wind
we’ll make it home.

J.P. Seaton

Broken Boat

Tu Fu

All my life I’ve had my heart set on going off
to the land of the lakes-the boat was built for it,
and long ago too. That I used to row
every day on the creek that runs by my rail gate
is beside the point. But then came the mutiny,
and in my panic I fled far away, where
my only concern was to get back here
to these familiar hills.
The neighbors are all gone now,
and everywhere the wild bamboo
sprouts and spreads and grows tall.
No more rapping its sides as I sing-
It’s spent the whole autumn underwater.
All I can do now is watch the other travelers-
birds sailing off in their westward flights,
and even the river, embarrassing me
by moving off eastward so easily.
Well, I could dig up the old one,
and a new one’s easy enough to buy,
but it’s really the running away that troubles me-
this recent escape and so many before-
that even in this simple cottage
a man cannot stay put long.


On Board Ship: Reading Yuan Chen’s Poems

P’o Ch’ui

I take your poems in my hand and read them beside the candle;
The poems are finished, the candle is low, dawn not yet come.
My eyes smart; I put out the lamp and go on sitting in the dark,
Listening to waves that, driven by the wind, strike the prow of the ship.

Arthur Waley

Snowy River

Liu Tsung-yuan

The birds have vanished
from a thousand mountains.
On a thousand trails,
not a single human sign.

A little boat,
a bamboo hat and cloak~
the old man, alone,
fishing the snowy river.

Sam Hamill


Written to the Tune of  “An Immortal Approaching the River”

Su Tung-p’o

Wine at East Bank tonight, sobered up
then started over, getting drunk again.
Got home, a little fuzzy maybe close to three,
and the houseboy was snoring like thunder.
I knocked at my gate, but nobody answered.
I leaned on my cane and listened to the river.
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.

J.P. Seaton