Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A mad poem addressed to my nephews and nieces

The World cheats those who cannot read;
I, happily, have mastered script and pen.

The World cheats those who hold no office;
I am blessed with high official rank.

Often the old have much sickness and pain;
With me, luckily, there is not much wrong.

People when they are old are often burdened with ties;
But I have finished with marriage and giving in marriage.

No changes happen to jar the quiet mind;
No business comes to impair the vigour of my limbs.

Hence it is that now for ten years
Body and soul have rested in hermit peace.

And all the more, in the last lingering years
What I shall need are very few things.

A single rug to warm me through winter;
One meal to last me the whole day.

It does not matter that my house is rather small;
One cannot sleep in more than one room.

It does not matter that I have not many horses;
One cannot ride on two horses at once.

As fortunate as me among the people of the world
Possibly one would find seven out of ten.

As contented as me among a hundred men
Look as you may, you will not find one.

In the affairs of others even fools are wise;
In their own business even sages err.

To no one else would I dare to speak my heart,
So my wild words are addressed to my nephews and nieces.

Po Chü-I (772-846) trans: A Waley

This concludes our all too brief journey through a selection of enchanting Chinese poems translated by the late Arthur Waley who translated many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of them between 1918 and 1946. He was a great servant to poetry. His many books include: The Tale of Genji, Monkey, The Nine Songs, The Analects of Confucius and The Way and Its Power.

Please note that although I have relied on Mr Waley's translations the couplets are my own invention. They make for ease of reading and understanding.


  1. In their own business even sages err.

    I think the writer of these verses was erring a little himself - He didn't seem to be interested in adding a little joy to the world! Bit of an 'I'm all right Jack' attitude?

  2. Jinksy makes on think, but i absolutely loved the poem....the poem is an attempt of reflecting the world vis-a-vis the self; or vice-versa?


  3. **an attempt at --

    and i enjoyed the whole series Gwilym, Thank you for the introduction :)


  4. an enjoyable journey Gwilym - thanks

  5. Jinksy,
    I think the poet is pointing out to his nephews and nieces the value of certain things he has learnt in his long life; an education, a good job, good health, self-reliance, etc., etc.. He wraps it all up by making a joke about himself - saying basically that there's no fool like an old fool! So the wise gift he finally gives the children is the idea that we have to be able to laugh at ourselves at the end of the day.
    That's how I read it. But then he's not here anymore so we can't ask him. :)

    Devika and John,
    Many thanks. Glad you enjoyed the mini-series.


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