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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

An Autumn Fast (poem by Bai Juyi)

Lately I've been looking more or less at random through the work of various Tang poets -- Li Bai, Du Fu and Wang Wei -- searching for poems about autumn that suit my current mood.  This morning I stumbled upon this gem from Bai Juyi.

Bai Juyi was one of the more prolific Tang poets.  He lived in the middle Tang period from 772-846.  More so than many of his contemporaries, he achieved considerable success in his lifetime, both as a poet and high government official, serving as provincial governor on several occasions.  He was also a Chan Buddhist.  His poems are relatively simple and straightforward and his extensive body of work ended up being a major influence in both China and Japan, as Chan gave rise to Zen and its rich literary heritage.

Autumn Fast

Bai Juyi

At daybreak arising to
Prepare for a cold autumn fast
The desolate scene
Suited to my bleak mood

A cool breeze at both windows
Stirring in the bamboo grove 
And white dew coats the pine
In the courtyard below 

As Ruan Ji schemed
To appear inept and drunk
And Ji Kang pursued
Health through rest

So at this point in life
Following my own path
I conjure a vast spirit residing
In each heartbeat and breath

*  *  *  *  *

Bai Juyi - preparing to fast

*  *  *  *  *



晨起秋斋冷    萧条称病容
清风两窗竹    白露一庭松
阮籍谋身拙    嵇康向事慵

生涯别有处    浩气在心胸

*  *  *  *  *

One brief textual note.  Ruan Ji and Ji Kang who are mentioned in the third stanza were both members of the famous group of scholars and poets from the 3rd century known as the Seven Scholars of the Bamboo Grove.  I don't know much about their work but they are renowned as the bohemians of their day, scandalizing the Confucians with their poetry and wild drinking.  It's an interesting reference for Bai to include here and it's clearly important to his overall theme.   Provincial governor and Chan Buddhist, I am struck by his focus in the final stanzas, as he pursues his own meditative path.

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