The Southern Room Over the River by Su Tung-p’o

The room is prepared, the incense burned.
I close the shutters before I close my eyelids.
The patterns of the quilt repeat the waves of the river.
The gauze curtain is like a mist.
Then a dream comes to me and when I awake
I no longer know where I am.
I open the western window and watch the waves
Stretching on and on to the horizon.

translated by Kenneth Rexroth

5 thoughts on “The Southern Room Over the River by Su Tung-p’o

  1. Su Dongpo has always been one of my favorite poets! He was also an excellent calligrapher. When his painting “Withered Tree and Strange Rock” was sold at auction a few years ago, the high asking price probably surprised many in the West.

    • He’s my favorite Sung Dynasty poet. These translations I’ve been posting are from the book One Hundred Poems From The Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth which I bought in 1967 along with his One Hundred Poems From The Japanese and were my introduction to Asian literature. Not my favorite translations but I’ve been rereading them for sentimental reasons.

      • Most people who are interested in Chinese poetry are familiar with the 100 Tang poems. Which of course are wonderful. But, to my mind, Su Dongpo has gone an important step further. Since I mainly deal with painting and calligraphy, he has an even more important place in my heart. Finding good translations is not that easy. I translated some poems myself and then found that certain passages in commin translations often deviate quite far from the poet’s intention.

      • I have a few favorite translators: Burton Watson, David Hinton, Red Pine but what I tend to do is read the same poem in as many translations that I can find to appreciate the different versions. There’s a wonderful book called Into English edited by Martha Collins & Kevin Prufer which takes poems from different languages and offers 3 different translations of the same poems. It’s interesting to see the differences side by side.

      • Thank you, yes, absolutely right! That’s how I see it and that’s how I do it too. I speak German and naturally the translations deviate somewhat from the English language path. I have around 10 translations of Laozi’s Daode-jing and that’s where it gets particularly exciting 🙂

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