Ci Poem by Su Shi

Lin Yutang Chinese

Not on view

In this piece written for his daughter Taiyi, Lin Yutang transcribes a poem by the renowned literatus Su Shi (1037–1101). This poem describes, in a humorous tone, an awkward situation Su Shi encountered when he was banished to Huangzhou (present-day Huanggang, Hubei) from 1080 to 1084. Being locked out of his own house late one night, he transformed his predicament into an aesthetic experience:

After a drink at night at Dongpo [in Huangzhou],
I wake up and get drunk again;
By the time I come home it seems to be midnight.
The boy servant is asleep, snoring like thunder,
And does not answer the door.
Resting on a cane I listen to the murmur of the river.
I always regret that I am not master of my own life.
When can I stop this hustling about?
The night is late, the air is calm, and the water has a sheen of unruffled light.
Let me take a small boat down the river hence,
To spend beyond the seas the remainder of my days.

(trans. after Lin Yutang)

Su Shi's self-mockery certainly appealed to Lin Yutang, the Chinese master of humor. In his biography of Su, The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo (1947), Lin describes him as "an incorrigible optimist, a great humanitarian, a friend of the people, a prose master, an original painter, a great calligraphist, an experimenter in wine making, an engineer, a hater of Puritanism, a yogi, a Buddhist believer, a Confucian statesman, a secretary to the emperor, a confirmed winebibber, a humane judge, a dissenter in politics, a prowler in the moonlight, a poet, and a wag."

Ci Poem by Su Shi, Lin Yutang (Chinese, 1895–1976), Album leaf; ink on paper, China

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