Su Tung P’o — Impromptu Verse

Impromptu Verse

Su Tung-P’o

1037-1101 CE
(translated by William P. Coleman)

Lonely, Tung P’o, a sick old man has
white hair that the wind blows — frosted, loose.

My son is fooled, happy at my rosy face;
I smile, knowing the red is wine.

Tung P’o (or Dongpo) means “eastern slope.” It’s the name of the poet’s farm, and then he took it for his pen name as a poet. His own name was “Su Shi,” or “Su Shr.”

He plays on this ambiguity in some of his poems — here and in lyrics for the tune of “Immortal by the River”. So the first line of this poem could refer either to his name or to the name of his farm. It could equally well start, “Lonely, at Eastern Slope, . . . ”

I found the Chinese text and an English translation of this poem — along with the word-by-word literal translation I used to create this one — at Chinese Poems.

The grammar of Chinese allows poets to leave interpretive choices open, and it’s an unattainable ideal of translating to bring out possibilities without closing others. I try to use my sense of English to at least intrigue you. If I’ve succeeded, it’s best — even if you don’t know Chinese, which I don’t either — to follow up at the source I cite above and see the original word-by-word translation from which I worked. It’ll be richer than what I’ve given you. To understand the poem best, try to construct your own translation.

See the FAQ and the external links at Chinese Poems, a beautiful resource with many poems.

more Chinese poetry translations in this blog More Chinese poetry translations in this blog.
more Chinese poetry translations in this blog Home page for Su Tung P’o translations.

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