Red Cliffs I. – Su Shih

First Prose Poem On The Red Cliffs

In the autumn of 1082, on the 16th of the seventh month, Master Su and his guests sailed in a boat below the Red Cliffs. Clear wind blew gently, the water was calm. The boaters raised their wine and poured for each other, reciting “The Bright Moon” and singing “The Lovely One.”
After a while, the moon rose above the eastern mountain, and hovered between the Dipper and the Cowherd star. White mist lay across the water; the light from the water reached the sky. They went where their tiny boat took them, floating on a thousand leagues of haze, in the vastness as if resting on emptiness and riding the wind, not knowing where they would stop, floating as if they had left the earth and stood alone, having turned into birds and become immortal. And so they drank and their joy reached its height, and they sang beating on the side of the boat. The song went:

Cassia oars and orchid paddles
Beat the illusory moon,
Rowing against the flow of streaming light.
From a great distance my heart
Yearns for my beloved at one end of the sky.

Among the guests there was one who played the flute, and he played along with their song. The sound of his flute mourned, as if grieving as if loving, as if weeping as if reproaching. Its sound echoed and lingered, not breaking as if a silken thread. It set to dancing the dragon submerged in a deep crevice, and brought to tears the widow in the lonely boat.

Master Su sobered himself, and straightening his collar sat upright. He asked the guest: “Why did you play like that?” The guest replied, “‘The moon is bright, the stars, sparse. The crows and magpies fly south,’ aren’t these the words from Cao Cao’s poem? Looking west towards Xiakou, East towards Wuchang, with the mountains and rivers entwining each other, densely green — isn’t this the place where Cao was beseiged by Zhou Yu? Cao had just broken Jingzhou, and was going to Jiangling, sailing west with the flow of the river. His boats prow to stern stretched for a thousand miles, and his flags and banners blocked the sky. Pouring wine, looking down on the river, chanting poems with a spear across his knees, he was indeed a hero of his times; but today, where is he? And how about you and I, fishermen and woodcutters on the islets in the river, taking the fish and shrimp and deer as our companions, and riding in a leaf of a boat, raising gourds as our goblets and drinking to each other? Entrusted like flies to heaven and earth, as tiny as one grain in a vast ocean. I grieve at my life’s shortness, and envy how the Great River is infinite. I want to fly with the immortals and roam the vastness, embrace the moon and live forever. I know that I cannot quickly achieve this, and I entrusted these sounds to the sad wind.”

Master Su said, “Do you know the water and moon? The one flows on, and yet never goes anywhere, and the other waxes and wanes, yet never diminishes or grows. If you look at them from the point of Change, then heaven and earth never stay the same for even the blink of an eye. If you look from the point of what is unchanging, then all things, and I, are inexhaustible, so what is there to envy? Between heaven and earth, each thing has its master, and if it were not mine, even if only a hair, I would not take it. Only the clear wind on the river, and the bright moon between the mountains: the ear receives one and creates sound, the eye meets the other and makes color; you can take these without prohibition, and use them without exhausting them. This is the infinite treasure of the Creator, and what you and I can share and rejoice in.”

The guest was pleased and smiled, they washed the cups and refilled them. All the dishes were finished, and the cups and plates were scattered all over. Pillowing on each other in the middle of the boat, they didn’t see that the sky was already brightening in the east.

Su Shih / Su DongPo

Translated by Pauline Chen


At Night I Dream That You and I Are Two Plants That Grew Together

“At night I dream that you and I
Are two plants that grew together”
Pablo Neruda

Pablo's Girl

Poems of an Executed Revolutionary


All alone with my shadow
I whisper and murmur to it,
And write strange characters
In the air, like Yin Hao.
It is not sickness, nor wine,
Nor sorrow for those who are gone,
Like Li Ch’ing-chao, that causes
A whole city of anxiety
To rise in my heart.
There is no one here I can speak to
Who can understand me.
My hopes and visions are greater
Than those of the men around me,
But the chance of our survival is too narrow.
What good is the heart of a hero
Inside my dress?
My perilous fate moves according to plan.
I ask heaven
Did the heroines of the past
Encounter envy like this?


How many wise men and heroes
Have survived the dust and dirt of the world?
How many beautiful women have been heroines?
There were the noble and famous women generals
Ch’in Liang-yu and Shen Yun-yin.
Though tears stained their dresses
Their hearts were full of blood.
The wild strokes of their swords
Whistled like dragons and sobbed with pain.

The perfume of freedom burns my mind
With grief for my country.
When will we ever be cleansed?
Comrades, I say to you,
Spare no effort, struggle unceasingly,
That at last peace may come to our people,
And jewelled dresses and deformed feet
Will be abandoned.
And one day, all under heaven
Will see beautiful free women,
Blooming like fields of flowers,
And bearing brilliant and noble human beings.

-Ch’iu Chin

Ch’iu Chin was a woman poet and a leader in Sun Yat-sen’s early rebellion. She longed for her country to be free from the Manchu’s and embrace democracy, and for Chinese women to be free. She was executed in 1907 by the Manchu’s for treason and her poems were used against her as evidence in her trial.

Living in the Summer Mountains – Yu Xuanji

If I could travel back in time 1100 years, I would find this woman and marry her.

Living in the Summer Mountains

I have moved to this home of Immortals.
Wild shrubs bloom everywhere.
In the front garden, trees
Spread their branches for clothes racks.
I sit on a mat and float wine cups
In the cool spring.
Beyond the window railing
A hidden path leads away
Into the dense bamboo grove.
In a gauze dress
I read among my disordered
Piles of books.
I take a leisurely ride
In the painted boat,
And chant poems to the moon.
I drift at ease, for I know
The soft wind will blow me home.


On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple
I See In The South Hall The List of
Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations

Cloud capped peaks fill the eyes
In the Spring sunshine.
Their names are written in beautiful characters
And posted in order of merit.
How I hate this silk dress
That conceals a poet.
I lift my head and read their names
In a powerless envy.

-Yu Hsuan-Chi
-Yu XuanJi

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung

Music That Moves You (For Lovers)

Music that I have been digging lately. You won’t be disappointed. Promise.

Listen to it LOUD

Alt-J Taro

Local Natives – Airplanes

Bon Iver – I Can’t Make You Love Me (cover)

Kathleen Battle – Lovers

And This

“All I know is in sleep, I can taste and feel need. Life alone makes me shake, if I die before I wake. Every drop that I bleed, it’s a gift You give me. Let me spend my skin on you. Kiss me, whisper, make me new. I’m a creature for your love.

On the day I come home and look at You and Your throne, every joy I’ve seen is a waste when I touch Your gorgeous face. I’m a creature for your love.”

Humans and Spiders and Love and Poetry

A Human Who Needs Other Humans

She had sores on her face
And her clothes did not fit her
And she was running from group to group
Drunk, and dirty, and clumsy.
No one wanted to be near her
And all the people snickered and laughed
At her pitiful ways
Then she came up to me
And my friends
And wanted to shake my hand.
She just wanted to talk
To me, to anybody.
I did not want her to touch me
And she soon moved on
Sad and lonely.
I will never see her again.
And I know now
I should have shaken her hand
I should have smiled
I should have sat down
And listened to what she had to say
If not for her sake
Then for my own.

Mary Oliver

I drink in her words like tea
Sometimes two or three poems
Are sufficient for me
And I think of her and her muse
Whenever I walk the woods
Or soak in the river.
I think of her and her muse
When the bluejays nest by my patio
Or the spider weaves its intricate home above my head
I wonder if anyone loves Oliver
The way that she loves the world
And if my spirit will ever find the kind of peace
That hers has
Lying amongst the grass of the fields.

Spider’s Worship

The spider ran in circles
Nimble and gymnastic
with threads of silk
Ingeniously maneuvered
Into patterns by two back legs
Such a beautiful design
By so tiny an architect
And for no other reason
Than to gather food and water
Needed to continue the worship
That is its sweetly simple life.


If I could speak the language
Of the spider’s web
or the oak tree’s branches
I would know the words of God.
And if I could hear the music
Of the stoney creek bed
Or the windy wispy clouds
I would finally know the sound of His voice
How foolish am I?
To walk through life so full of pride
When I can not even understand
The simplest of things