As you may have noticed from a previous post (to be found here), I very much enjoy reading ancient Chinese and Japanese poetry, and I’m especially fond of the role wine often plays in these works. Accordingly, I’ve got a few more oeno-poetic items to peruse …
The first poem I want to look at is by the great Sung Dynasty poet Su Tung p’o, who lived from 1037 to 1101.
Not only is this a stunningly beautiful poem, with a stunning wine image in its volta, it is also an excellent occasion to showcase just how much translation can affect our experience of a poem. Accordingly, I’ll excerpt from two different translations, one by Kenneth Rexroth and one by David Hinton. First, the Rexroth translation (in whose hands the poem in entitled “The Red Cliff”), with the excerpt below being the closing few lines of the poem:
Laugh at my prematurely
Grey hair. My answer is
A wine cup, full of the
Moon drowned in the River.
And now, the David Hinton translation, who titles the poem “At Red Cliffs, Thinking Of Ancient Times.” And again, the closing lines:
Surely spirits of that ancient time
roam here, smiling at all these feelings
and my hair already turning white.
Our life’s like dream,
so pour out the whole cup, offering to a river and its moon.
Wow! What a difference, eh? Both renditions are stunning to me, but so, so very different. For my purposes here though, what’s most important is the image of the wine cup; it’s utterly indispensable to the potency of the volta in both translations.
Here is another beautiful poem, with wine a little more incidental, but still vital. (The poet is Lu Yu, a late Sung Dynasty poet).
I will admit that, despite the comparatively limited role wine plays here, I really wanted to include this poem because it has such a fantastic, and fantastically long, title:
“7th Moon, 29th Sun, Yi Year of the Ox: I had a Dream Last Night in Which I Met a Stately Man, and at First Sight We Were Like Old Friends. He Had Written Pages of Lovely Poems Long Ago, All Perfectly Pure and Simple. I Started Reading Through Them, but Woke Before I Could Finish. To Record What Happened, I’ve Written This in Long Lines”
Whew! Anyhow, the poem (in a Hinton translation):
This traveler is an instant friend, utterly clear and true:
even before we dip out wine, we share kindred thoughts.
The pillow is cold, but I don’t understand it’s all a dream
in the clear night. I just savor that vision of an old sage.
Star River tipped, Dipper sunk, ancient histories empty,
mist scatters and clouds leave. Our two bodies are mirage,
and mind is perfectly clarity. It sees through this illusion.
Awake, you can’t avoid it: all things the same bittersweet.
Will someone please remind me to “dip out wine” the next time I have wine? I think we need to incorporate more ladels into the tasting experience …
Anyhow, one last poem, one I consider to be just an absolutely quintessential expression of the metaphysical, naturalistic, cosmologically integrated joys of drinking wine. It’s a Rexroth translation of another work by Su Tung P’o, titled “Moon, Flowers, Man”:
I raise my cup and invite
The moon to come down from the
Sky. I hope she will accept
Me. I raise my cup and ask
The branches, heavy with flowers,
To drink with me. I wish them
Long life and promise never
To pick them. In company
With the moon and the flowers,
I get drunk, and none of us
Ever worries about good
Or bad. How many people
Can comprehend our joy? I
Have wine and moon and flowers.
Who else do I want for drinking companions?