Poems of Bai Juyi
Mixed Feelings in Three Parts, Part Two
In Yue, the government originated in neglect.
As Yue's heavens ceaselessly brought drought and
Days of wind dried out the fields of rice,
All waters dried up. Dust covered the land.
And so to the kingdom came a new prohibition:
Official canals would no longer flow with water.
Government water would no longer go to the fields.
It was to be kept, dammed up, within the palace.
These palace waters supported birds and fish and the
Palace walls that floated upside down in their ripples.
Their tranquil waters filled small ponds or
Wound playfully, around and about, within the palace.
Next May then, all the water plants were sprouting
And Yue's king was dancing all for joy.
From every direction came blessed winds of goodness
Bringing him the fragrance of hibiscus blossoms.
The king so loved this scent of hibiscus that
He planted ever more hibiscus seed.
His thoughts remained within the Gates of Heaven
While, for a thousand miles around, the rice fields died.
杂兴三首 二 was written somewhere between 821 and 824, as Bai Juyi enters his 40s. In 821, a new emperor comes to the throne. Emperor Muzong (穆宗) was a bit like the king in this poem and a bit like the king in 杂兴三首 一 and Bai Juyi disapproved. So he sent a memorial of disapproval to the court and got moved along again. For some reason, he was moved up instead of out. Muzong appointed him Governor of Hangzhou (杭州). Bai Juyi's friend Yuan Zhen lived in nearby Ningbo (宁波) and the two men were able to continue their friendship. Muzong went on to create a complete mess of things and died of illness (I'm guessing gout) in 824.
This poem is an echo of Bai Juyi's life at this time. The land around Hangzhou depended on the water of Xihu (西湖 or West Lake) for crops. This was an artificial lake created by damming the Wulinshui (武林水 or Martial Forest River), also known as the Qiantang (钱塘). But in this declining Tang Empire, the recent governors had neglected the dike which created the lake and Bai Juyi found the farmers suffering in a severe drought. Bai Juyi used his power as governor to create a new and proper dam which more than restored Xihu. Hangzhou's agriculture was restored and Xihu became a place of beauty which Bai Juyi is said to have visited every day. A former governor, Li Mi (李泌), had introduced a series of canals and pipes to bring water from Xihu for drinking and for beautifying the city. These would have been restored by the new dam. With all this goodness, Bai Juyi was keeping his promise from 观刈麦 and the people named the new causeway Baigongdi (白公堤 or Bai's Public Dike) in his honor.
Our third poem, 西湖晚归回望孤山寺赠诗客, was about this same Xihu and its temple. Big Stone Buddhist Temple on Xihu was said to be located where the first emperor of the Qin, Shi Huang Di (始皇帝) had once moored his boat on the Qiantang River. In the poem, Bai Juyi has visited Lonely Mountain Temple (孤山寺) which may have been on an island, making the "Mountain" a "Hill," on the lake. So as Bai Juyi enters his forties, we have him visiting Buddhist temples on the lake. But he gives us no hints as to his relation to Chan Buddhism at this time. The "palace of the perfect man" in that poem, is Penglai (蓬莱), more Daoist than Buddhist. It was the island mountain where the Eight Immortals lived. Shi Huang Di wanted their Elixir of Immortality and sent men in search of Penglai. The closest they came was Japan.