Writing What I’ve Seen

Yuan Mei

All things that live
must make a living.
There’s nothing got
without some getting.
From fabled beast to feeble bug,
each schemes to make its way
The Buddha, or the Taoist sage?
Unending in his labor;
morning’s herald, the rooster, too-
can he not cock-a-doodle-doo?
I hunger, so I plot to eat;
I’m cold, and would be robed . . .
But great grand schemes will get you grief
Take what you need, that’s all.
A light craft takes the wind
and skims the water lightly.

J.P. Seaton

Listen, it’s never-ending analysis that wounds us. Why not
Circle away in the great transformation —
Riding its vast swells — without fear or delight

Listening to the Rain

Yang Wan-li

A year ago my boat, homeward bound,
moored at Yen-ling-
I was kept awake all night by the rain
beating against the sails.
Last night the rain fell on the thatched roof
of my house.
I dreamed of che sound of rain
  beating against the sails.

Jonathan Chaves

In a Boat

Yuan Mei

When it rains, the going’s often swift,
but then again it’s hard to cross a river you can’t see.
Stay, or go on:  Be your own master…..
Don’t wait to see which way the wind blows.

J.P. Seaton


Moored at Maple Bridge

Ching An

Frost white across the river,
Waters reaching toward the sky
All I’d hoped for’s lost
in autumn’s darkening.
I cannot sleep, a man
adrift, a thousand miles
alone, among the reed flowers:
but the moonlight fills the boat.

J.P. Seaton

Leaving in My Boat

Du Fu

A longtime guest in the southern capital, I plow southern ?elds;
though the north-gate view hurts my spirit, I still sit by the north window.
One morning I take my old wife on a small boat
and when it is sunny, watch my little son bathe in the clear river.
Butter?ies ?ying in pairs chase each other.
Twin lotus ?owers are blooming on one stalk.
We carry all the tea and sugarcane iuice that we need,
and porcelain bottles are as good as jade jars.

Tony Barnstone


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.