Baby’s First Bath by Su Dongpo

Parents raising children
hope they will become
intelligent and wise

but all my life
I’ve been the victim
of my own cleverness

all I want for my kids
is that they be
ignorant and stupid

so they can grow into
high-ranking nobles
free from misfortunes and suffering.

translated by Jiann I. Lin & David Young

Seeing the Year Out by Su Tung-p’o

Want to know what the passing year is like?
A snake slithering down a hole.
Half his long scales already hidden,
how to stop him from getting away?
Grab his tail and pull, you say?
Pull all you like–it does no good.
The children try hard not to doze,
chatter back and forth to stay awake,
but I say let dawn cocks keep still!
I fear the noise of watch drums pounding.
We’ve sat so long the lamp’s burned out.
I get up and look at the slanting Dipper.
How could I hope next year won’t come?
My mind shrinks from the failures it may bring.
I work to hold on to the night
while I can still brag I’m young.

translated by Burton Watson

Rain during the Cold Food Festival by Su Tung-p’o

This is my third Cold Food Festival
since I was exiled to Huang-chou.

Each parting spring, each year, I grieve.
Nevertheless, each passes–no regret.

This year there’s pestilential rain,
the past two months dark as autumn.

I lie still, listening to cherry blossoms fall
into snow, pink and growing muddy.

Of what steals things in the dark,
the strangest arrives at midnight:

as though a young man went to bed
only to wake and find his hair turned white.

translated by Sam Hamill

for some reason a poem I identify with: A Hundred Days, Free to Go by Su Tung-p’o

A hundred days, free to go, and it’s almost spring;
for the years left, pleasure will be my chief concern.
Out the gate, I do a dance, wind blows my face;
our galloping horses race along as magpies cheer.
I face the wine cup and it’s all a dream,
pick up a poem brush, already inspired.
Why try to fix the blame for past trouble?
Years now I’ve stolen posts I never should have had.

translated by Burton Watson

***Written on his release from prison after 130 days and before leaving for a remote post which was essentially like exile again. 

Drank Tonight at Eastern Slope by Su Tung-p’o

Drank tonight at Eastern Slope, sobered up, drank again;
got home somewhere around third watch.
The houseboy snores like thunder;
I bang the gate but nobody answers.
Leaning on my stick, I listen to river sounds.

Always it irks me–this body not my own.
When can I forget the world’s business?
Night far gone, wind still, river creped in ripples:
I’ll leave here in a little boat,
on far waters spend the years remaining.

translated by Burton Watson

New Year’s Eve: Spending the Night Outside Ch’ang-chou City by Su Tung-p’o

From the traveler, singing; from the field, weeping—both spur sorrow.
Fires in the distance, dipping stars move slowly toward extinction.
Am I waiting up for New Year’s? Aching eyes won’t close.
No one here speaks my dialect: I long for home.
A double quilt and my feet still cold—the frost must be heavy;
my head feels light—I washed it and the hair is getting thin.
I thank the flickering torch that doesn’t refuse
to keep me company on a lonely boat through the night.

translated by Burton Watson