白居易诗

Poems of Bai Juyi


Index

晚燕

Evening Swallow


百鸟乳雏毕
秋燕独蹉跎

All other birds are busy feeding children.
But for this swallow, autumn is a fallow time.

去社日已近
衔泥意如何

He leaves his nest as dawn is barely breaking.
He's daubed in mud now. Well, so what?

不悟时节晚
徒施工用多

He doesn't realize the season is late.
He leaves alone to find a better place.

人间事亦尔
不独燕营窠

With people, too, life's often just like this.
Not only swallows seek to find a nest.

-- 白居易


废话

We don't know when Bai Juyi wrote this poem. I suspect it was on the eve of one of his exiles. It could also be a case of 宦游 (huan4you2) or "the wandering of an official who is looking for work." Court life was not that stable and Bai Juyi may have taken to the road from time to time out of necessity. His connections to his wife's family might have lead to his looking for a lower profile in times of political change. It sounds to me, in this poem, as if the current change was not a welcome one.

I've learned a little more of how Bai Juyi came to be viewed in Japan as the God of Poetry. It has to do with the heightened aesthetic senses of women. Before Bai Juyi died, he created volumes of his work which he wanted preserved. Copies were made of these and arrangements were made with Buddhist temples for their preservation. At some point, at least one of these copies made its way to Japan during his own lifetime and more copies were imported into Japan over time.

As the court women of the Heian Period in Japan became interested in literacy, they were already aware of Bai Juyi's poetry which already had a certain amount of fame in Japan. Court women were not supposed to be literate. But this did not stop them from studying or from choosing Bai Juyi as the object of their study. One of these women was Lady Murasaki, who in the 13th Century was painted as reading Bai Juyi's poetry with the Empress Shōshi. She is said to have taught Chinese to Empress Shōshi using Bai Juyi's New Lyric Poetry collection. Murasaki's famous diary and, I believe, Sei Shōnagon's "Pillow Book" also contain excerpts of Bai Juyi's poetry. Interest in Bai Juyi, which had to some extent waned overtime, was revitalized and then increased due to the attentions of these refined women.

Index