Listen to this article

The temperature all last week hovered in the high nineties, then it broke one hundred. Summer was early in the Midwest. The inside of the car was hard to cool. The sidewalks were like a furnace. The grass on the lawns withered and browned. It got so that I began singing to myself Phil Collins’ song, I Wish It Would Rain Down. [The video featuring a skit with Phil Collins as an unknown singer filling in, Eric Clapton on guitar, and a janitor, Chester Thomson, taking over the drums, is a must see.]

Yesterday, the blessed rain came down on me.

Bai Juyi has written two poems about Autumn Rain, not summer, but I thought they might chill the soul.

Walking in Night’s Fine Rain

Autumn clouds, vast and lonely
The night is slightly chilly.
And though my clothes are wet
I hear no sound of rain.



Sleeping in an Autumn Rain

A cold night in autumn’s third month,
A lonely old man at peace within.
Lies down late, his lamp gone out,
And soundly sleeps amid the patter of rain.
The fiery ash inside the stove still warm,
Its fragrance adds warmth to his quilted covers.
As dawn comes clear and cold, he does not stir,
While frosted red leaves scattered about the steps.



Notes on Translation

Sadly, in the English translation of the first poem, the repetition of sound and rhyme does not repeat.

Mòmò qiū yún qǐ shāoshāo yèhán shēng dàn jué yīshang shī wú diǎn yì wúshēng.

Interestingly, Mòmò, 漠漠, has a secondary meaning of confused silence, implying one who covers his ears and pretends to listen. Shāo, 稍 is a little and ShāoShāo, very little or slightly.

The melancholy nature of the poems likely dates them to between 815 and 819 when Bai Juyi exiled from the Imperial Court. Compounding his sorrow was his mother’s death and a three year mourning period. He spent his exile in Jiujiang (previously Jiangzhou), near several lakes including Longgan and the larger Poyang, on the southern shores of the Yangtze River in northwest Jiangxi Province.

Lastly, one might wonders about the focus on Autumn Rain. In China, late summer and autumn rainfalls are a typical phenomenon characterized by continuous rainy days and large rainfall amounts. Many Chinese Tang poems and stories were written about the flooding of Lake Dongting along the Yangtze.


白居易 〔唐代〕













This poem grasps the personality characteristics of the characters in the specific environment to describe in detail, and successfully depicts the image of an old man who is comfortable and idle. The first part depicts the old man’s character from his sleep on the autumn night, and the second part further depicts the situation after the old man wakes up. To some extent, the whole poem reflects the poet’s gloomy and lazy political heart and lonely and idle life in his old age.
“Three cold autumn nights, an old man at ease”. The poet described the late autumn night with the “cold” feeling given by the climate environment, which gave the whole poem the keynote of late autumn. Without wind and rain, it was still so cold. With the attack of autumn wind and rain, the poet naturally felt even colder. The use of this interlining technique can fully mobilize the imagination of readers and enhance the appeal of poetry. The second sentence points out the characters. The word “leisurely” depicts the image of the “old man” who likes to be quiet and tired of movement and has few desires.
“Sleeping late when the light is off, and sleeping in the rain”, “lying late” write the characteristics of the old man. The elderly are sleepy, so they prefer to sit idle and keep their eyes closed rather than go to bed early to avoid being unable to sleep at night. If the elderly are not “late in bed”, they may not be able to “sleep well” in the rain. It is interesting to explain the time of “lying late” with the words “after the light is off”. The autumn rain outside the window and the “old man” in the house “sleeping peacefully” show that he has nothing to lose and has a carefree feeling.
The above two couplets depict the old man’s character from his bedtime on the autumn night. The second half of the poem further describes the situation after the old man woke up.
“The ashes stay in the warm bottle fire, and the incense warms the quilt cage”. The fuel in the baking bottle has been turned into ashes through the night, taking care of the old man’s “sleeping beauty”. It was only the third autumn night when the fire was ready, highlighting the old man’s fear of cold. The night has passed. It is reasonable to say that the old man should get up, but he still wants to “warm the quilt with incense”. He plans to continue to lie down, vividly portraying the image of a frail and idle old man.
“The frost leaves are full of red before the dawn and cold rise” echoes the first sentence, describing the impact of climate on flowers, trees and the elderly. After the wind and rain, the climate in late autumn is colder, and the word “cold” explains why the old man “didn’t get up”. “Frost leaves are full of red steps”. The night wind and rain have deepened the “cold” meaning. Not long ago, the leaves were red like February flowers, but they were mercilessly swept away to the full steps overnight by the autumn wind and rain. This is the use of contrast techniques to show the coldness of nature. From trees to people, from nature to society, the poet is deeply touched. However, the “old man” is “cold and sunny”. He is careless about it, which highlights his calm and indifferent mind. The whole poem closely grasps the characteristics of the old man sleeping in the autumn rain night. It is vivid, touching and full of life. ▲

Previous articleThe Returning Thief is the Official, Yuan Jie – 元结《贼退示官吏》
Next articleWandering outside Jinling with Deputy Lu on an Early Spring Morning – 杜审言《和晋陵陆丞早春游望》


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here