Poems of Bai Juyi
Anonymous lives through court struggles.
Outspoken winds up in a grave.
The graveyard's too much desolation.
The court life's too noisy and vain.
If anonymous seems to elude you,
Hide deep within office walls.
Seem to go while actually remaining.
Don't be busy or sit on your thumbs.
Don't wear out your mind or your body.
Avoid lack of food and much cold.
Year round leave no white trail of paper.
And do not your income outrun.
If climbing to heights is your hobby,
There are autumn hills just south of town.
If loafing about is your preference,
There are eastern green parks to go round.
If you'd like to spend evenings quite drunken,
Find time to join in some nice feast.
Crowds of nobles are down by the river,
Self-indulging while speaking at length.
I see that you like to sleep soundly.
But now you are deep within gates.
And no cart or horse of a house guest
Will rashly come to your estate.
You're alone in the world you are given.
It's a hard road for pleasing both sides.
The poor: bitter, starving and frozen.
The rich: all too miserable inside.
Only this here anonymous gentleman,
Dedicated to fortune and peace,
Can balance the bad times with good ones
And survive in the midst of all things.
In the Tang dynasty, the highest ranking officials were the Chief Ministers. There were usually three or four at the capital and a few scattered about the empire in big cities. These and their families were those of the First Rank. As Bai Juyi got older, he began to wonder if his keeping a low profile had cost him and his family First Rank status. His friends, the ones who lived long enough, made Chief Minister and their families were elevated. But Bai never made it above Second Rank and its poor salary of one thousand strings of cash (plus a whopping load of grain) per year. It is 829 and Bai Juyi has probably been moping about his career failure. So he makes fun of himself with this poem. Or song. For once, my translation seemed driven by rhythm. You can easily chant this in English, just as Bai Juyi would have in Tang Chinese, whatever that sounded like.