百步洪 The 100-Step River Rapids’ Ride
原作: 苏轼（字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋）
旧版英译:戈登.奥赛茵, 闵晓红, 黄海鹏(1990)
The 100-Step River Rapids’ Ride
written by Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')
old En. trans. by G. Osing, J. Min & H. Huang (1990)
Revision+ annot. by Julia Min (2023)
(Background：My friend Wang Dingguo visited me here in Peng City, Xuzhou. As I was tied up with work, I arranged him a trip to the 100-Step Rapids Ride accompanied by Yan Changdao, together with three courtesans (Pan, Ying and Qing) for entertainment. Taking a boat in River Si they first paid homage to Mount Saint in the north and sailed down to the rapids for the thrilling joy, a happy day of flute music and wine drinking till returning in the moonlight. Standing in a light robe for the evening, I greeted them on the Yellow Pavilion, embracing their happy moments with more drinks. It seemed such a free and pure joy just like Li Bai’s spirit that has been missed for over 300 years, and how could I have missed it! With Dingguo gone for a month now, the yearning grows untamed in me, so I invited my monk friend Can Liao for the Rapids Ride. What an experience! Here’s the outcome -- two poems, one for Can Liao, and one sent to Dingguo. Also, I shared with other friends Yan Changdao, Shu Raowen for their comments.)
The river suddenly rushed down between steep rocks,
A small boat, like a shuttle in a loom, dashed through,-
Like a falcon diving for the rabbit that breaks off,
Like a stallion galloping down a stony slope，
Like a string snapped on the qin, lightning in a bottle,
Like waterdrops rolled off lotus, the flight of an arrow.
Her crew cried out orders as wild geese took wing.
To the south they zig-zagged, leaping down the stream，
The surrounding hills spinning, ears filled with wind
Till the rapids’ end, whirlpools of white foam swirling.
The thrill of danger was pure joy, the swifter the better,
But, it’s just like River Lord exulting in his river.
My own life is swept away with nights and days.
A flash thought may get me to a place far away.
We squeeze for fame in a big sea of drunken dreams.
A palace can end in thistles and thorns, who’d foresee?
Many lifetimes seem like whirlpools till awakening, -
A narrow escape, if blessed, from frenzy to easy stream.
You can see both banks lined with dark green stones
Riddled, like a honeycomb, with many punting holes.
I’d free this self from an earthly being to a beingless,
To outwit the Creator’s design to navigate mankind.
We’d better stop for the shore, each to his own horse.
My monk friend Master Can won’t stand my blabby talk.
1.‘the qin’: a Chinese musical instrument with 7 strings, very popular in the Song dynasty. In fact it was a must for the gentlemen’s society. Yes, it was played by men as music and art were considered as two main qualities in a gentleman’s taste for life.
2.‘River Lord’: referring to the book Rivers in Autumn by the Daoist saint figure Zhuang Zi, a story about the Lord of Yellow River who was very proud of His destructive power when his river was flooded in Autumn, until he reached the sea where he realized his river was nothing compared with the broad sea. The implication here is associated with our limited senses as humans in a short lifetime, like a frog at the bottom of a well, not being able to see beyond the bigger picture of mankind and of the universe.
3.‘flash thought’: or ‘a flash of thought’, as against this physical body of this life, an invisible thought can travel far and wide, and much quicker than the rapids.
4.‘being…beingless’: same implication as above, a free soul detached from the physical world, the earthly joy and glory, to become an awakened spirit.
Have you ever tried rafting down a river rapids for the thrilling joy?
If yes, any hindsight gained about life and death?
The 100-Step Rapids Ride was a popular tourist destination in the southeast of Peng City. If every experience in this world is meant for us to learn and grow, then perhaps, no one has gained a better insight into life than Su Shi in a rafting ride. This poem was written in 1078 when Su Shi was the governor of Xuzhou. We all know the philosophy of Daoism has painted his life like the yellow colour in the great artist Van Gogh’s works, a feeling closer to nature, a cosy oyster cove. The conflicting ideas between the returning to the mountains and the pursuit of glory has been a lifelong battle for Su Shi, a theme throughout his artistic works. Actually he is just an example of many, ancient and modern, like the everlasting conflict between physical pursuit and spiritual aspiration, being in play every day. This world of Earth is perhaps, as some say, a school to help us transcend from physical to spiritual, so the presence of the duality was born, in the Creator’s work, as the essence of every phenomenon. The theme reminds me of another poem by Su Shi “To Zhang Woquan, at the Bracing Pavilion of Huangzhou”(《水调歌头 黄州快哉亭赠张偓佺》), which was written just a couple of years later.
Again, the poem is structured with a shift from the scene to his theme, with the first stanza on what he experienced followed by what he thought in the 2nd stanza. The rapids ride was highlighted with his wild imagination as in a stream of consciousness jumping from a falcon over a rabbit to lightning in a bottle. Vivid pictures flashed one after another responding with the chasing pace of the leaping boat – a clever arrangement for a stronger artistic play on the heartbeats of the readership. Another feature is the Zen humour on quietude sensed in the concluding couplet about Master Can Liao, a poet and essayist among many of his Daoist monk friends. There’s a whole chapter about Can Liao visiting him at Huangzhou followed by interesting and touching stories that I’d share at another time.
1. Blooming Alone in Winter by Gordon Osing, Julia Min and Huang Haipeng，published by the People's Publication House Henan Province in 1990 (《寒心未肯随春态》戈登.奥赛茵，闵晓红，黄海鹏) (““Baibuhong” --The great river falls suddenly to a tumult of waters,/ Southward a light boat flies, hurled like a shuttle, / Her crew crying out orders and excitements, the wild ducks rising,/ Scarcely missing the rocks scattered everywhere in their flying./ Like a rabbit breaks when the falcon dives for him,/ Like a stallion gallops down into a boundless valley,/ Like a string snapped on a qin, like an arrow shot from the hand,/ Like lightning they zig-zag, they drop, like a pearl off a lotus. / Between four walls of mountains they spin with wind-filled ears,/ Seeing nothing but swirling foam and countless whirlpools;/ But the danger is pure joy to them, the swifter the better./ What difference is it if the Autumn God exults in his river?// My own life is swept away with nights and days disappearing;/ I see now one thought may end in a far-away land./ We strain and squeeze for fame and power in a drunken dream,/ Who don’t foresee thorns and thistles will bury the palace doors./ When they wake up, they’ll have lost a thousand years./ Behind me here the river has never ceased winding./ You can see both banks lined with dark green stones/ Riddled with punting holes from way back, honeycombed./ Out there somewhere’s “the crowd”; why should I worry about changes?/ Did the creator, who sails the whole thing, aim my heart?/ Let’s leave the boat to her fate and return to the horses;/ My monk-friend won’t stand for long lessons on which world is home. ”)
2. picture from 无犀之谈 via Google；