Rain on the River

Lu Yu

In the fog we drift hither
And yon over the dark waves.
At last our little boat finds
Shelter under a willow bank.
At midnight I am awake,
Heavy with wine. The smoky
Lamp is still burning. The rain
Is still sighing in the bamboo
Thatch of the cabin of the boat.

Kenneth Rexroth

Last Night

Yuan Mei

North wind, the days short:
the nights so slow.
The hard part of old age:
no peaceful sleep…
But I just awake with a start to see
the windows whitening.
Last night, at least
was just a little boatride.

J.P. Seaton

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

Seeing a Friend Off at Jingmen Ferry

Li Po

When you sail far past Jingmen
you enter the land of Chu
where mountains end and flat plains begin
and the river pours into a huge wilderness.
Above, the moon sails, sky mirror,
and clouds weave and swell into a sea mirage of terraces
Below your wandering boat, water from the home you love
still sees you off after ten thousand miles.
Watching the Waterfall at Lu Mountain
Sunlight steams off purple mist from Incense Peak.
Far off, the waterfall is a long hanging river
flying straight down three thousand feet
like the milky river of stars pouring from heaven.

Tony Barnstone

Rhymes in a Boat I.

Yuan Mei

Yesterday the errant wind blew hard against the prow.
The boatmen hauled the tow rope, as cowherd a balky cow.
Today, a lovely breeze, steady from the tail.
We’ll make at least a thousand miles, full belly in the sail.
Yesterday I wasn’t evil, today no saintly leaven.
In this boat there’s only me: I smile upon broad heaven.

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.