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Rain and mud, a walking stick, Lord Su, a feast of dates and pears, fine wine makes good talk.


杖藜入春泥, 無食起我早

Stopping By to See Su Duan in the Rain
Du Fu, 757-759

In wind and rain, a rooster crows. And after a long drought, rain is good.
A walking stick, in Spring it’s muddy, I rose early, and didn’t eat.
Trying to recall the homes I visit, but soon a single meal is swept away.
Ah, with Lord Su, countless are my visits, each one more delightful.
Cherish such a man, whose son serves pears and dates.
Good wine should always be drunk, for when it’s drunk one speaks one’s mind.
Red flowers fill the corner of the house, and grass in front is green and thick.
Family and friends talking freely, making fun. Loud and lively, pleasing to a frail old man.
Blessed with rain, yes, for sure. But, set aside some grain for tomorrow.
Beyond the enemy, my family lies, … Oh, let’s not talk of that.

A wartime feast

Ten lines of two couplets, five characters in each couplet, makes 100 characters.

The date, 757-759. The place, Sichuan, where the Tang dynasty’s Imperial Court is in exile. Chang’an, the capital has fallen to rebel forces of General An Lushan.

After it rain, the skies will clear, and the sun will come up tomorrow, but will it be happy?

7th Century China

“Oh, how the mighty are fallen.”

Old Testament, 2 Samuel 1:19

The Tang dynasty of the 7th century was known as China’s Golden Era.

The reign of Emperor Xuanzong (685 to 756), known to his subject as Emperor Ming, the Brilliant One, was marked by westward expansion, commercial growth, and a flourishing Imperial Court. But military reverses against Tibet began a series of events that culminated in the devastating An Lushan Rebellion. The rebellion began in the north, beginning in 755. In short order, the emperor’s forces were defeated by the rebel forces of General An Lushan. Chang’an, the capital fell, and the emperor fled to mountainous Sichuan province, but not before officers accompanying the emperor slew Yang Guifei, the emperor’s consort, for her part in the events leading up to the troubles.

Du Fu too fled the capital, taking his family to safety. But when he tried to join the emperor in Sichuan, he was captured. Eventually, he escaped and made his way to Sichuan, where he was given an insignificant post, for the most part, ignored.

One pictures him as a gadfly, with nothing to do, someone living off the largess of friends and casual acquaintances, one of whom is Su Duan, an unidentified high ranking official.


Peace and happiness would come. And Du Fu would reunite with his family. In 759, he moved to Chengdu, built a thatched hut near the Flower Washing Creek (Huanhuaxi, 浣花溪), and lived there peacefully with his family for four years.

Emperor Xuanzong’s Flight to Sichuan, original image, The Met, artist unknown, 12th century.

Notes on Translation

Yǔguò, 雨過, “passing rain” can also be read as Du Fu’s wish that the rebellion is just a passing rain. The Chinese have an idiom, Yǔguò tiān qíng, 雨過天晴, skies turn clear after it rain, a metaphor for politics turning from dark to light.

Fēngyǔ, 風雨, wind and rain, a euphemism for trials and hardships.

Qīng dǎo傾倒, to dump, a Chinese word, meaning to pour all out or pay a lot, “going whole hog” is an English idiom. Pears and dates represent prosperity and generosity, especially in a wartime setting when food and wine are scarce.

Qīn bīn, 親賓, relatives and guests. A good use of rhyme. Xuānnào喧鬧, racket, noise, loud and lively.

Bō qì bù nǐ dào撥棄不擬道。Literally, setting aside unintended ways. Daoism suggests that there is a Way. On the contrary, Du Fu is suggesting that it is better not to talk about it at this point.

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