Poems of Bai Juyi
Putting Off Lord Money
I was wandering about without a destination.
I had been seven years in the capital, Chang'an.
All it had brought me was Lord Money.
Realizing my mistake, I decided to put him off.
How can we bloom upon a mountain top
If we travel one inch to avoid the hard and cold?
How can we be crossing the great river
If there are no great billows by our side?
For me, this decision had an unusual result:
A long self-coercion to not forsake my truth.
But without the surge of my ancient spring of income
Moral integrity strengthened like a drying bamboo staff.
And so I became my own self-reliant friend.
Thrice rising up to goodness in late season.
As flowers fell, I saddled up my horse for travel.
Amid the snows, I joyously drank wine.
Almost by chance, I reach the Gates of Judgement.
Unprepared, I find myself upon the heights.
In spring breezes, I sleep at noonday.
Under autumn moons, I keep watch all night.
I no longer resemble the man who took civil exams.
I don't seem like a bureaucrat at all.
I have fit myself to the space of my heart.
My mind's source no longer differs from its origin.
My sources tell me that 赠元稹 was written between 806-820. I think we can do better than that. The last line, to me, is more deeply Buddhist than anything in the poem from 808 about the phoenix tree which is used as an ideal of Buddhist monkhood. So 809-820. In 811, Bai Juyi's mother dies and he spends a long traditional mourning period honoring her. Which whacks as much as 811-814 out of the possibles. So 809-810 or 815-820. But from 806 to 814, Bai Juyi is happily, we hope, employed near or in Chang'an. So unless this is all a fantasy of the road, we have 815 to 820.
Now in 814, there is a big political incident, with in-fighting and assassination, in the capital. Bai Juyi disapproves and sends a memorial of his disapproval to the court. Which he is not qualified to do, as a minor official. From 815 to 819, he is exiled for his insolence. In 819, he is forgiven and allowed to come back to work. So I plonk for this poem being written between 815 and 819. If this seems like a whirlwind of his personal history, it is. We'll come back to all this in detail as we go along.
Bai Juyi may not have chosen to put off Lord Money and give up his 700 bushel salary of grain. But he comes to terms with his lack of income here in this poem. His hard times bring out the best in him. He relies on his own integrity and does the best he can. And this brings him happiness. Flowers, horses, sitting in the moonlight. Good times -- even if his stomach is growling. So 春风日高睡 could mean he also enjoys sleeping in late after an intimate evening with the female expression of his ideal, Man. His heights may not be Buddhist heights. And he may not be drinking alone either.
He certainly hasn't given up the world that we know he went back to. I hope, for his sake, he drank wine with his lady friend, in the snow, beneath the moon, and then enjoyed her intimacy until so late that they couldn't have breakfast until after the sun had passed into afternoon. Regardless of the details, Bai Juyi's life here is good, filled with integrity and goodness. Good for him.