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                                                                     Translator's Notes

                                                                             (Oct. 1989)

      The present work would not have happened if my graduate student, Min Xiaohong (Julia) had not brought

to my attention the poetry of Su Shi, the favorite classical author of her colleague at Huanggang Teachers'

College, Professor Huang Hai-peng. Min had had the pleasure of perusing Su's work at Dong-po Red Cliff

every day during her three years teaching in the college, and later, before writing her M.A. thesis on Su, had

climbed Mt E-Mei, paid a visit to the Three-Su Temple and called upon famous experts of the poet, who had

inspired Min. She in turn turned me on to the poetry of Su, the 11th Century politician and writer who

spent most of his career in exile in the countryside of China. Min first had the idea of translation and we

began putting Dong-po's poems into English on rainy Sunday afternoons in Hubei Province while I was

an exchange professor at Huazhong Normal University in Wuhan in 1986 and 1987. His salon sense of

composition in combination with his utterly human and personal frankness made him seem so alive and

intense. He seemed a bit of a Chinese Chaucer, if I may make the comparison. He truly seemed to step

out of the Medieval tapestry and walk a lonely garden at midnight, in the mind's eye, thinking of the past,

of lost love, of the timeless beauty of the common life, and above all, of good luck and bad luck that test

one's character in the world.

       Professor Huang Hai-peng made from Su's hundreds of poems a selection of Su Shi's best-known and

loved pieces and developed a set of historical and cultural notes for each poem. Min Xiao-hong put all

these into broken English for my use. Huang and his wife together laid out each poem in original characters

and, pinyin. To amplify Huang's notes, Min wrote some comments for the Western readership. She made

suggestions about the tone, compared with American and British poets and poetry, so that I could sense the

subtleties between the lines and come nearer to Su's feelings and thoughts. I recomposed the poems in

English. Min suggested refinements here and there and thus created the primary manuscript. It truly was

an intensely collective effort.

      We decided to represent the salon aspects of Su Shi's work with one English word or small phrase for

each Chinese character, in general. His poems' lines are four, five, six, or seven characters in length, usually.

I believe we had the opportunity to work in all the insinuations and much of the semantic action of the 

original characters, though I felt obliged to recompose the rather taut and clipped non-syntactical flow of the 

originals as English sentencing. In Chinese poetry, the characters are fitted together in readers' imagination

in the act of performing the poem to his or her own mind's pleasure, as if the poem were a text of musical

notations, the mind its instrument. Both the spirit of composition of Song Dynasty poetry and the openness

with which it addressed the worlds of experience outside courtly and intellectually fashionable matters are

remarkable. It was an era that saw expansions in subject matters and a sort of Romantic declaration of the

poet's self as the central matter of composition. And Su Shi is among the masters of the era. He knew well the

great poets of the past, Du Fu, Wen Ting-yun, Wang Wei, Bai Ju-yi, and of course Li Bai. He knew practically

by heart the writings of Laozi, and Kong Fu Zi, Confucius, and indeed passed government qualifying tests at

several levels on the great works of the past, for Song government appointment. He would already have

internalized the strictures and fashions in composition, the prescriptions, and conventions when he began

his career writing. He was a master of the Chu poem, which is a kind of freely constructed lyric. He composed

numerous Song ci, poems written to be performed with voice and instruments to the ancient and popular

melodies. He knew and admired the Lü-Shi, or tonally formulated couplet poems, of the T'ang era, eight or

twelve-line poems featuring end rhymes and lines of five or six characters, and the Jue-Ju, a quatrain made of

five to seven-character lines, that was often set to music, too, and, at its best, left the reader sus-

pended among several possible realizations. He knew many of the old Yue-Fu, or popular songs, words, and

tunes. He knew perfectly well the intellectual gravities of Confucian thought, with all its emphases on duties

and responsibilities to family, village, and state, of Daoist and Buddhist thought, with their emphases on the

illusory character of the world and the timelessness of the senses. And he knew, as did all scholar-artists, the

ancient model poems, the Shi Jing, compiled before the time of Confucius (5th Century B.C.), and the Chu-ci,

or Elegies of Chu, including his Nine Songs, composed rhapsodically and filled with rather sensuous imagery,

in five to seven character lines broken with a sort of suspended pause that amounts to a kind of inward sigh.

The subject matters of the Nine Songs are unusually personal. These poems date from the time of the Warring

Kingdoms, in the centuries following Confucius. I mean to suggest that Su Shi's originality includes thorough

and lively utilization of his very many sources and influences. He was, as were so many before him, a scholar-

poet as well as a would-be statesman. We hope certain flourishes of language and phrasing in English and

certain traditional tricks, such as internal and end rhymes, alliteration, and assonance will suggest strongly

the formality of the originals, in which balanced and counted tones, from line to 1ine, subtle effects of shorter

and longer syllables, and taut, continuous allusions to the mythological, literary, and historical past all furnish

dynamic aspects. Add to these matters the matter of Nature in Chinese literature, which tends to refer to a

fixed world of symbols, including not only phenomena in nature but also the accumulated values in every

character (language) and all the ancient wisdom and lore of the culture, which are considerable. For instance,

in classical Chinese writing, many expressions allude to former, beautiful expressions in the culture. The poet

must have studied all and believed that Nature and Chineseness existed complete in antiquity. His task is to

join the present to it.

      We have taken compositional shortcuts to keep the poems from sprawling to include all their subtleties,

allusions to events in the historical and literary past, and mythological references. We have added notes and

appreciation to help the reader bridge from the poems' texts to thorough readings. The well-trained Chinese

reader would bring most of these matters with him/ her to the act of reading. Poetry, as has been said, is the

most compressed, cultural expression of all. We readers of poetry in English bring to our famous texts a very

similar body of lore and references. We hope we have presented you with readable poems after all these

calculations and recompositions.

      And if our calculations and inspirations have not been enough, we have included on opposing pages the

texts of the originals. in Chinese characters and pinyin and broken English. These, with the historical notes

and the appreciation, should invite the reader to make up his/her own versions of Su Dong-po's poems.

Certainly, the whole package should show the reader what we have done with our sources. We are grateful to

Henan People's Publishing House for the opportunity to present such a comprehensive package of work. Also 

I wish to thank Memphis State University for the opportunity to work as an exchange professor in China and

for a faculty development grant to return to China to work on this project.


by Gordon Osing

                                            Su Shi and His Times


Su Shi ( Su Dong-po) was a native of Meishan, in what is now

Sichuan province, living in the second half of what we have come

to call the North China Song Dynasty (960-1126). The dynasty

had been founded by the famous General Zhao, who, after he

had saved the kingdom from the Khitan nomads from the

northeast, set himself on the throne and unified the nation once

again, after several generations of struggle and instability. But it

was not a soldier's empire that he founded; his kingdom enjoyed

a certain orderly rule, national unification of policies at several

levels, the emergence of a truly urban class of social managers,

and, above all, the development of a national civil service that re-

quired scholar/ artists to administer. Tests were given and a rela-

tively few applicants were passed to still more rigorous tests in the

capital, and still another at the palace. These tests were held every

three years,and fewer than ten per cent of the original applicants

finally became honored administrators. The examinations fea-

tured questions of distinctions between literary styles and aesthet-

ic bases for distinguishing the poets and artists of the past.

Examinees were asked about the histories of the usages of certain

key words and phrases. In brief, the imperial tests were examina-

tions of deep and thorough cultural savvy, which the candidate

would presumably bring to bear in his judgements and admini-

strative style. His word would be de facto legislation; after all.

China's tradition is the rule of men, not of abstract law.

At that time the Emperor's chief advisor and administrator,

something like a Prime Minister, was Wang Anshi (1021-1086),

“the bull-headed,”who achieved a particularly modern sounding

national administration, with advisory and regional administra-

tive bureaus arranged beneath the throne. There was a council of

ministers to advise the Emperor, and three supervisory bodies, a

secretariat that was very much like a cabinet,a privy council that

handled military matters, and a finance commission that man-

aged the budget. Policies were pursued to bring together the

needs of the landowners and the peasants, always at odds with

one-another, and the new urban classes that dealt in trade and


Of course, Wang Anshi was criticised by the old Confucian con-

servatives, who considered these successes too much central gov-

ernment, and of course the old enmities between the small farm-

ers and peasants and the feudal landowners did not cease. But

there was order and national unity.

Su Shi was one of those scholar / administrator / advisors,  whose

political career had several very severe ups and downs, his falls

generally related to the unpopularity of his positions with several

fashions in power.

 Su Shi's Meishan was about forty li  from Sichuan's scenic Mount

E-Mei. In his day the region already manifested an advanced,in

tegrated culture. It was a center for printing and the production

of painting and literature. He was born on January 8,1037, ac-

cording to the modern calendar,December 18,1036 according to

the Chinese lunar calendar. His parents were well-to-do and his

father,in particular,practiced learning and the arts and desired

that his two sons follow in his footsteps. Because only the two

sons survived the hardships of life in those days, the old man,Su

Xun,and his Lady Chen,wished both boys. Su Shi and Su Zhe,

to achieve learning and skills in arts, in calligraphy, formal essay

writing,painting, poetry, and music. Su Shi's elder brother also

achieved some renown as a Confucian scholar. The father did a

good job of passing on to his sons the feudal ethical codes of

Confucian culture. Honor, integrity, a correct social order, hones-

ty,suspicion of rapid or novel changes, service to family and vi1

lage: these were Confucian virtues. Above all, he taught them to

seek to become what are called in Chinese towns and villages“no-

tables,” people elevated above others by virtue of their having

achieved the truest realization of the Chinese ideal.

Already at the age of eight Su Shi entered Tian Qing Guan by the

North End,a famous elementary academy in Meishan. His teach-

er there was the Taoist scholar Zhang Yi-jian, who put Su Shi

through his lessons on The Chu Ci , the old poems of Li Bai,Du

Fu, Bai Ju-yi, Tao Yuan-ming, Du Mu, Li Shang-yin, Wang

Wei, Han Yu, Liu Zong-yuan, and the ancient classics, too. Su

Shi was also obliged to study the Zhuang Zi by Zhuang Zhou,

 the great Daoist scholar of the Warring States, the Zhanguo peri-

od (403-221 B.C.). That great old classical author had written

against Confucian codes of behavior, social hierarchies,and the

 formalizing of living. He valued closeness to nature, harmony of

being with the simple harmonies of water and land, animals and

plants, human acts and purposes. In brief, he wrote about what

Daoists called “The Way” which need not be socially formalized.

Neither the Confucian nor the Daoist influences of his education

were ever replaced in Su Shi's mind, though, in exile, frequently,

he preferred the Daoist consolations of nature and an art that

was to him his“way”.

Both Su Xun's sons did well on the imperial examinations, Su Shi

finishing second in all the empire. His elder brother Su Zhe ob-

tained high praise from the old examiner Ouyang Xiu for his

prose style.(One has to remember that prose writing, too, had to

obey certain Confucian models of progression and frequent allu-

sion to established classics. There was no objective logic; the craft

of writing was considered a skill in constant and subtle cross

referencing of sources and examples.)

The three, in fact, became known in Chinese scholarly folklore as

“The Three Su's.”On a second journey to the capital in  1059,af-

ter the Lady Chen's untimely death and the appropriate mourn-

ing period Su Shi wrote his first series of poems, on the scenery

along the Chang-jiang (The Yangzi River), a group of pieces that

came to be known as The Journey South.

He arrived in the capital somewhat more learned than experi-

enced in real political power. His ideas about national policies

 were still too much influenced by the old ideas he had mastered,

 and, when he became a court advisor,he soon found himself at

 odds with the prevailing ideas about how to reform the country's

  various old ways of doing things. Wang Anshi was willing to see a

 stronger central government,at the cost of village and rural inde-

 pendence, and he had found a way to bolster the unorganized ag-

 ricultural situation with what was called“The New Law.”This

change of agricultural policy offered the farmers what would

 seem to us quite modern, enlightened assistance, in return for na-

 tional control of marketing products. The farmers could borrow

 to plant seed, and money could be lent on the basis of the history

 of each land parcel's history of productivity. The interest would

 be 20%, ordinary in those days. In case of a bad harvest, each

 farmer could hold-off repaying until a successful year. Also cal-

 led“The Green Sprouts Act,”this law required only organized

 marketing in return, with the national government, through its

 business representatives, using the grain as an export and trading

 commodity. It would seem all parties had something to gain in

 the arrangement. The Confucians at court, though, believed it

was dangerous if not immoral for the national government to en-

ter into such distant control of local matters. Wang Anshi's gov-

ernment also offered loans to small businesses,set price controls

all over the land,transferred surplus grains from prosperous to

needy regions, invented tax differentials for high and low yielding

lands,encouraged local defense units under local gentry, and even

quartered state-owned horses on local farmers' lands, which the

farmers could use until the militia needed them. Su Shi was

among those learned ones who spoke against so much central-

izing of government. Both his Confucian and his Daoist lessons

had emphasized local,rural and village dimensions as best. In

fact, he spoke out pretty righteously about the Emperor's strate-

gies for unifying the country,and made several very powerful en-

emies,who soon accused him of something like treason,for which

he might, in fact, be exiled or worse. Clearly there was also some

dislike in the air,based on envy and suspicion of this exceptional-

ly learned beginner in politics.

After serving well as Assistant Magistrate at Fengxiang he was

invited to the Capital (Dec.,1064) to serve as secretary in the

Department of History, to lead in drafting edicts, in fact (A year

later his beloved first wife died.). The years  1064-1070 are riddled

with conflict between Su Shi and Wang Anshi. This is the time of

the famous“nine-thousand word letter”. That included the wis-

dom,“The emperor holds six fresh horses with worn-out reins.”

Su Shi spent the next eight years governing at Hang Zhou

                                                          . 15 .

(1071-1074), Mizhou (1074-1076), Suzhou (1077-1079) and

Huzhou (1079), until his positions and political satires annoyed

the throne too much and he was summoned to trial in the capital

and found guilty.

He was imprisoned and expected the death sentence, which was

commuted  at  a  last  monent, and  exile  to  Huangang

  Huangzhou) was offered instead. This was the first of several

failures at the capital that resulted in exile, sometimes to impor-

tant posts, sometimes to unimportant. Once he was sentenced to

become “ Inspector of Waterways,”  a post with no duties and a

salary of one bag of wine per year, of course an insulting and

humiliating sentence. In 1079 he arrived in exile in Huangang,

where he purchased and opened a new farm on the East Hill,a

few li from the Red Cliff Pavilion, a Daoist meditation temple

over-looking, then, the Chang-jiang. He took his literary name

from that East Hill, Dong-po, and became thereafter Su


It was out on his farm, Dong-po, and at the Red Cliff Pavilion

that he wrote so many of his famous ci. This exile lasted a little

over four years, from 1080 to 1084. He tilled and fished and made

his life with ordinary people, took Daoist pleasure in their daily

things,and quite often drank too much and wrote and toasted

the moon in the Yangzi from Red Cliff. Several of his best and

most famous pieces are from this life in exile in Huangzhou. His

poems are still carved in wood and stone in that wonderful old

pavilion. And how fresh and alive the old poet seems in those

characters now eight-hundred years old.

In 1085 he returned to the capital, now convinced the people had

benefited from the enlightened policies of Wang Anshi. But the

Emperor's old policies had succeeded just enough to be not so

much needed any longer, and besides, old oppositions had now

succeeded in changing the throne's mind and a revival of

Confucian piety now prevailed and the former new laws were

now in serious disfavor. So Su Shi was once again on the wrong

side, this time armed with serious quantities of peasant virtue and

democratic zeal. And here was Su Shi praising the reforms and,

worse, criticizing provincial administrators for corruption and

failures to have the people's best interests at heart. Again, he

seemed the radical, this time the over-zealous reformer. He spent

the rest of his career being assigned from post to post where he

was far from the concerns of those at court. Sometimes his posts

were ironic and humiliating. Finally he was sent as far as Hainan

Island,off the south China coast, about as far from the capital as

one could get.

He made his life from minor administrative post to post, finally in

old age, to desolate Hainan, and did not compromise his belief in

ordinary living and in the rights of people to decent government

administration, He also kept track of his own jnner life by writing

poems on a remarkable variety of matters. In fact, the variety of

his subjects became a strong influence in subsequent Chinese

literary art; so did his artful personality, his“Romantic temper-

ament,” as later, other lights would call it. At sixty-six, Su Shi

requested permission to retire, from his position on Hainan Is-

land,and was on his way back to the capital, weary, quite ex-

hausted, in fact, but not the least broken in his faith in the com-

mon life, when, half way to Changzhou, the old master-poet

died,in 1101.

 In Europe, in the time of Su Shi's life, the highest houses still used

 oiled linen for windows, Holy Rome was beginning its resurgence

from physical and moral ruins with the Gregorian Reforms,

 Moslem invaders controlled all of Spain except the strongholds of

Navarre and Leon, France was a coalition of powerful nobles

who elected the weakest among them king; Germany was a col-

lection of duchies whose nobles were openly and successfully op-

 posed to central authority (that is, until Henry IV stood in the ice

and snow three days waiting for Gregory's forgiveness at the cas-

tle of Canossa), the Scandinavian kingdoms were pirates' nests.

and, though the basic shapes of the countries of Europe were in

place, agriculture,commerce and trade,immigrations of surplus

peasant populations to new towns. and transformations of or-

deals and magical trial rituals into legal systems had only just be-

gun. In Su Shi's lifetime, Norman knights turned their con-

quering successes westward and Duke William defeated Harold

Godwinson at Hastings, on October 14, 1066, and changed the

cultures of the Anglo-Saxons, and Celts and Danes forever. In

November of 1095, Pope Urban, charged the French people with

the holiness and various usefulnesses of the cause of retaking the

Holy Land from the heathen Mohammedan, to which whole new

populations, somewhat in excess anyway of what home-lands

could stand, responded vigorously.

Only a few years earlier, in the Song capital of Kaifeng. newly ar-

rived Su Shi,intellectual, artist,and chosen advisor to the throne,

had pronounced without subtlety or caution, “Why is the great

Emperor demeaning himself by peddling coal and ice like any

greedy,ordinary merchant!” For this he was actually lucky mere-

1y to be sent into exile. though it turned out to be perennial. So-

cial ideals were formalized, too, to the point of mortal punish-

ments for those failing in agreement. The empire was already an-

cient, in its third or fourth millennium as tradition would have it ,

and even in competitions for power between court eunuchs and

advisors, some ultimate cultural Platonism was believed to reside

in every decision. “The Rule of Heaven”was a goal and a real

possibility to those struggling for power in The Middle Kingdom.

So Su Shi's fate had been pretty much permanently decided even

as Wang Anshi's political reforms came to be regarded as devia-

tions from “The Rule of Heaven. ”When the emperor's successor

Shen Zong died in 1085. all the reforms were abolished and the

Dragon Throne's interest in the management of the details of

peasants' lives became once again deeply unfashionable.


Scholars of Chinese literary history consider Su Shi as both the

consummate, all-around artist and something of an innovator,

too,especially in his poetry. He left behind splendid examples of

calligraphy,some 2700 known poems, and considerable social

and intellectual commentary, much of it written as Daoist satire

of developments in his time.

In one such satire he assaults the Confucian tendency to see

things in prescriptions and proscriptions, and asserts several

Daoist principles:

One blind man from birth has no conception of

the sun. If one day he questions someone about

the sun, he is told,“The sun is like a brass basin. ” Then

he knocks against a basin and hears it clang. and

later takes a bell for the sun. So another man tells

him,“The sunlight is like a candle. ”Then he feels

a candle to discover its shape, and later takes a

flute for the sun. The sun is very different from

bells and flutes,but a blind man does not know

this because he has never seen it he goes by hear-


Now the Way is more difficult to discern than the

sun, and those who do not study are like blind

men. So when one who knows the way speaks of

it,even though he is skilled in making apt com-

parisons, he can think of nothing better than a

basin or a candle; though a basin may make his

hearer think of a bell, a candle of a flute, until the

hearer gets farther and farther from the truth.

Thus when men talk of the Way, they attempt to

describe it in terms of what they have seen. or

imagine it without having seen it, and in both

cases they deviate from the Way.

One sees in these remarks not only a presentation of Daoist prin-

ciples but also an ur-apology,defining the territories of figurative

thought, or poetic language, as strongest when 1east definitive,

when most allusive and suggestive without becoming


Su Shi influenced literary developments in poetry in both the

matters of subjects and styles. His poems quite often present the

most accurate and intimate details of ordinary peasant living, add

those to the accumulated and almost exclusively courtly matters

taken as legitimate in times past. He writes of harassed peasant

women working their farms for primarily tax-collectors' gains, of

a famously crooked sherrif getting his just deserts, of old fishing

and drinking buddies in their straw capes cleaning their nets and

hanging them out to dry, of wonderful festivals in remote villages,

of pretty local girls and their lucky husbands.

The fashions in writing that prevailed in his day featured courtly

goings-on, sentimental romance, and something like the cliches

of Petrarchan art as essential to literary performance. Su Shi's

sympathies and pleasures directed at the poor and the common

people were as good as serious departures, even though they

were,in fact, returns to the earlier innovations of Li Po and Li

Bai, the great Tang Dynasty poets.

One of Su Shi's continuing themes is the loss of virtue in high

places, and the loss of the more basic and dramatic sense of old

times. “The snows and the roses of yesterday”stuff, to be sure.

but he also exercises against intellectual and artistic decadence.

The gulf between palace and remote rice paddies seemed more

than wrong to him; it was a betrayal and the palace pretense that

government was above all that humble stuff outraged him. More

than several of his poems speak against official indifference and


So his works bring art and the life of his times together,are ulti-

mately anti-artifice in the strictest sense, though he was himself

exceedingly well-trained as an artist, and did create as an

innovator of technical and artistic traditions, which he knew quite

well. His one continuing theme was that honorable men must suf

fer the world a good deal.

He wrote many nature lyrics,in which he repeatedly described

moments of peace and satisfaction in that changeless world, for

all its simplicities and variety and availability. He was a master at

finding his inner life and struggles reflected and solved in mo-

ments of pure release and pleasure in scenery and actions in the

natural world,in a lonely swan-goose's coming to rest in win

tered sand by a river. in the reappearance of the first globe-fish

when the soul was all but wintered-out. In his emotional frank-

ness and directness, Su Shi reminds the Western reader of

Wordsworth and aspects of the other Romantics. His poem

about the purple plum tree blooming alone while it is still winter

is perhaps the best example of all, and his most famous. Of spe-

cial interest to us in this volume are the ci poems, usually and

historically written to existing tunes, mostly by courtiers in love,

and riddled with predictable attitudes and comparisons. General-

ly they were dedicated to a favorite“singsong” girl of the season.

Generally they were unmemorable. Su Shi took the occasion of

this form and expanded its subject matter to things far more im-

mediate and honest and truly personal and lively. “The Lady”in

his poems is most likely to be an isolated and grimly fated peasant

woman, or his own deceased beloved wife. Or else he will satirize

lost worlds by calling forth in his heart ancient beauties and

fairy-ladies,that abound in Chinese folklore and mythical histo-

ry. It is his own experience that he bares to his readers,and there-

by relegates more conventional works to a museum of sameness.

In some respects Su Shi strikes us as rather modern, especially in

consideration of his emotional frankness and sense of irony and

alienation. Add to these gestures his ability to fuse scholarly

reference with ordinary speech, and one begins to get the full

sense of his contribution to traditions. There is also the implied

suggestion in his work that the content of artistic expression, in-

definite as it must be, and tentative if not limited by time and lan-

guage and skill, is the praxis of culture and History. In his poem

about the qin, the Chinese musical instrument,he insists that the

music is neither in the strings nor in the hands that stroke them,

but, a la'Wallace Stevens, in the cultured mind that plays upon

the strings, in its passions.

Chinese critics generally credit Su Shi with declaring and proving

the subjective world as at least the equal of any presumed objec-

tive one. The Nature he finds his way back to is both an actual

natural world, and also an original world of Chinese-ness in the

humblest living,etc... The old poets he alludes to frequently

would chide latter-day decadences, he implies.

The over-all effect of Su Shi's poetry is a freshness and a vitality

that renewed poetry as a cultural force. He and his contemporary

 Huang Ting-jian founded the “Jiangxi School,”sometimes called

the“Su-Huang School,”characterized by personal,immediate

and often colloquialized uses of received forms. Most critics con-

sider Su Shi to have been the greatest Song poet. The least one

can say is that his art took to itself the greatest possible breadth

and variety of influences.

Indeed,Su Shi's preference for dealing with ordinary lives and the

direct and realistic manner in which he depicts those lives,do

inevitably call to mind England's Chaucer,whose times live fully

in his work, too.

His contribution to the promotion of ci  poems from palace dalli-

ances to literary substance, his democritizing of its contents and

transformation of its contents to realistic, satirical and lyric im-

pulses and lyrical values,and his infusing of it with actual,human

emotional expressions-these taken together, would ensure his

importance to the development of Chinese poetry.

Yes,he was a well-trained Confucian intellectual,and he was al-

so,when he needed to be, the Buddhist Chüsu(wandering mystic).

Finally,however,it would seem his early Daoist learning won out

as the center of gravity in his art. He could never have sided with

the legalistic Confucians, whose ancient scholar/ hero Mencius

could actually posit that it was ungentlemanly for a good man to

take the hand of a drowning maiden, who resolved the question

of meat-eating by declaring simply,“The wise man never goes in-

to his kitchen.” “Choose the lighter happinesses.” a saying goes,

to protect oneself from Zhefu, a word for inevitable decrease in

well-being that comes from excesses.

Su Shi once asked a colleague what he thought of his ci, and the

fellow replied, “Liu Yong's poems are suitable for girls of

seventeen or eighteen to sing softly with their talk of softest winds

and waning moons by the banks of willows,but your ci poems

need a burly chap to sing them in a loud voice, with copper pipa

and iron clapper.” On yet another occasion,the great master

asked his three concubines, after a grand dinner, what his belly

contained. The cleverest one, Zhaoyun, replied that he had “a bel-

ly-full of unseasonable thoughts.”(The Chinese image of deep

thinking is “ransacking the dry intestines” ). The response would

seem to explain as well as any the abiding reputation of the old

master and to summarize the spiritual vigour of his work.


by   Gordon Osing and

      Min Xiao-hong

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