Su Tung-P'o (1037-1101)

Spring Night  I Travel Day and Night  New Year's Eve*  Lament of the Farm Wife of Wu 

Spring Night

Spring night - one hour worth a thousand gold coins;
clear scent of flowers, shadowy moon.
Songs and flutes upstairs - threads of sound;
in the garden, a swing, where night is deep and still.

I Travel Day and Night

Passed the place where the Ying River enters the Huai, and for the first time saw the mountains along the Huai. Today we reached Shou-chou.

I travel day and night toward the Yangtze and the sea.
Maple leaves, reed flowers - fall has endless sights.
On the broad Huai I can't tell if the sky is near or far;
green hills keep rising and falling with the boat.
Shou-chou - already I see the white stone pagoda,
though short oars haven't brought us around Yellow Grass Hill.
Waves calm, wind mild - I look for the landing.
My friends have stood a long time in twilight mist.

New Year's Eve*

New Year's Eve - you'd think I could go home early
but official business keeps me.
I hold the brush and face them with tears:
pitiful convicts in chains,
little men who tried to fill their bellies,
fell into the law's net, don't understand disgrace.
And I? In love with a meager stipend
I hold on to my job and miss the chance to retire.
Don't ask who is foolish or wise;
all of us alike scheme for a meal.
The ancients would have freed them a while at New Year's -
would I dare do otherwise? I am silent with shame.

*Written in 1071 when Su was vice-governor of Hangchow. By custom, criminal cases involving the death penalty had to be settled before New Year's.

Lament of the Farm Wife of Wu

Rice this year ripens so late!
We watch, but when will frost winds come?
They come - with rain in bucketfuls;
the harrow sprouts mod, the sickle rusts.
My tears are all cried out, but rain never ends;
it hurts to see yellow stalks flattened in mud.
We camped in a grass shelter a month by the fields;
then it cleared and we reaped the grain, followed the wagon home,
sweaty, shoulders sore, carting it to town -
the price it fetched, you'd think we came with chaff.
We sold the ox to pay taxes, broke up the roof for kindling;
we'll get by for the time, but what of next year's hunger?
Officials demand cash now - they won't take grain;
the long northwest border tempts invaders.
Wise men fill the court - why do things get worse?
I'd be better off bride to the River Lord*

*ancient custom of sacrificing a young girl each year as a "bride" to the River Lord, the god of the Yellow River.

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