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  • Julia Min

满庭芳 . 蜗角虚名 Why this Hustle and Bustle for a Bubble Fame

满庭芳 . 蜗角虚名

原作: 苏轼(字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋)

英译: 闵晓红(2023.12)









Why this Hustle and Bustle for a Bubble Fame

--to the musical tune of “Vibrant Garden”

Chinese original: Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')

English translation: Julia Min (Dec. 2023)

Why this hustle and bustle for a bubble fame

That’s mighty like a fly’s eyes, tiny as snail’s brain?

Your fate had been already set before you came.

Why are you still so obsessed with loss or success?

For a life span of one hundred years, if I may,

I’d set free this soul, let it be, breezy and gay,

With thirty six thousand rounds of nice wines,

and thirty six thousand nights of sweet dreams.

Just think again, list out all the good, and bad days,

You’ll find half shadowed in sorrow, in wind and rain.

It’s such a wonderful place at River South here,

So why should I spend my life to complain for pain?

I’d party with friends at the moss lawn with flowers,

Gleaming moon as the light, white clouds as the cover.

Together we’d share countless cups of fine drinks.

Together we’d sing to the tune the Vibrant Garden.


1. ‘A life span of one hundred years’: Chinese people believed that a standard life span is one hundred years, and an age over 80 is already regarded as a good ending, or in another way of saying it, a reward for a blessed person.

2. ‘River South’: here it refers to Hangzhou;


It is unknown what year Su Shi composed this poem. It could either be around 1073 or around 1089 when he was governor of Hangzhou. Judging from the deep philosophical understanding about fame and fate, critics concluded that it could be likely the latter when he had experienced the banishment to Huangzhou, the series of promotion up to the post of Secretary General to the Emperor, and taking a post away from the Royal Court.

A remarkable feature here is the structure and style. It’s like an critical essay tapped into the form of a poem. Poems generally usher you in via a scene or some introductory description before the theme subject, but this one points to the topic right from the first line, a rather unusual arrangement, which triggers my wild guess that it could be an immediate reaction towards another poem, or essay, or a story. The chemistry colours dramatically from being cynical on a society that’s just hunting for power and money to a transcended mind state of spiritual freedom. The message under the line refers to the fierce cold war going on between the old party he was leading, and the new party that was implementing the New Law. The sharp tone reads like the style in the essays by his father Su Xun. And the subject reminds me of Shakespeare’s sonnet “Life’s a Stage”.

It was well received right in the gentlemen’s society, often recited during an intellectual gathering, and also embraced by Daoists and Buddists alike who seek awakening from the social attachments. It was carved in stones in many places in China too. Some idioms have been derived from this poem enriching the Chinese dictionary.


2. picture from Google


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